Teaching Your Dog to Leave It

August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

Goal: Teach your dog to ignore things you don't want them to have or pay attention to with the cue "leave it."

When and where to use "leave it"

They might get distracted by people, dogs, cats, squirrels, smells, or movement. Some distractions, like trash or puddles on the ground, could potentially harm your dog. At home, they might try to pick up things or food items that are within reach. The cue "leave it" will refocus your dog on you.

What you need to train "leave it"

  • Have your dog on a 6 foot leash in a quiet room. Hold the leash in your hand.
  • You can always step on the leash if it's helpful for you to keep you hands free.
  • Have 20 - 30 of your dog's favorite treats ready. How to train "leave it"
  • Place 2-3 treats in your closed hand and let your dog sniff your hand. When your dog shows interest in your hand, hold it still and wait for them to pull away or lose interest in getting the treat. As soon as your dog moves away from your hand, even if it's 1-2 inches away, say "leave it" , praise and reward with treat. Repeat the exercise.
  • Some dogs are persistent. They might sniff, nibble, or paw the hand that holds the treats. Be patient and wait for your dog to move their nose away from your hand.
  • When your dog figures out that they can't get the treat unless they move away from the hand that holds the treats, start to say "leave it" as you put your hand down level with your dog's head. If they don't move towards your hand, praise and reward. If they do move toward your hand, wait until they back away, praise and reward.
  • When your dog has learned the game and isn't even trying to get the treats out of your hand, switch hands. Repeat the exercise.
  • As your dog progresses, keep the hand that holds the treats open. When your dog approaches to snatch the treats, say "leave it" and close the hand. Repeat the exercise.
  • Next, teach your dog not to pay attention to things on the floor when you say "leave it." Put a treat on the floor and cup your hand over it so your dog can see the treat, but can't get to it. Say "leave it." When they withdraw from the treat, praise and reward them with a treat from your other hand. Never let your dog take the treat or item you are telling them to leave. Repeat this step several times. As they progress, uncover the treat but be ready to cover it up with your hand if your dog tries to get to it.
  • Next, teach your dog to not pick things up off the floor. Place 2-3 treats on the floor. Walk your dog by the treats, but far enough away that they look at the treats but don't pull towards them. When your dog looks at the treats, say "leave it." Stop moving and don't let them approach the pile of treats. Wait for them to relax on the leash and look up at you. Praise and reward them with the same type of treat or something better than the ones on the floor. Repeat the exercise.
  • If your dog ignores the treats on the ground successfully for about 10 repetitions, work your way closer to the pile of treats on the ground.

Tips and next steps

  • Practice "leave it" with things you don't want your dog to reach for and put in their mouth. You can set up short 5-10 minute training sessions. Use distractions like snacks on a coffee table, trash cans or packaged food. Also try toys and other items your dog is interested in.
  • If your dog is off leash, make sure they can't reach and grab the object or food you asked to "leave it." Ask someone to protect the food or object that you're practicing with. You can step in front of your dog or protect the object with your foot or hand so they can't reach it.
  • The sooner you give the cue "leave it," the better. If your dog is already intrigued by an object, it's much harder for them to leave it alone.
  • If you're too close to the object and the dog grabs it, ask for your dog to "drop it."
  • The cue "leave it" can be used to refocus your dog on you when they get distracted by children, a jogger running by, dogs on walks, etc.

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