Leave It is an essential dog command, but a difficult command to teach definitively. Many people have tried telling their dog “leave it!” only to repeat themselves to no avail as their dog interacts with something that they shouldn’t be touching.
In this article, we’ll show you the foolproof method for teaching your dog the “leave it!” command and teach you a few other dog training tricks to boot.
Get Your Training Treats Ready
The core of every dog training regimen is your love and affection, expressed to your dog via your positive reinforcement language, expressions, and, most of all, treats. Your dog training treats should be lightweight treats that you can dispense freely, and they should also not be your dog’s favorite treat because you will need to phase your dog’s adherence to commands off of requiring a treat for follow through.
Small liver treats or carrot based treats are a good choice for training treats, so long as your dog finds them worthwhile to alter their behavior. The idea is to be able to toss a treat and have your dog enjoy it and get reinforcement, or keep a treat in hand and not break your dog’s heart until they comply with your command.
Catch Your Dog On A Good Day
One of the biggest secrets of command dog training is that your dog’s attention span isn’t going to be the same every day. Your dog will have good days and off days, just like you might. Teaching your dog Leave It doesn’t require your dog to be in top form but try to work it into the middle or end of a training session where your dog has mostly done well.
The advantage of doing things this way is that your dog will be warmed up into “training mode” by rehearsing prior commands, and in the mindset of obeying what you say to get treats. As strange as it seems, getting trained requires a lot of “thinking” for dogs, so a particularly tough new skill that may be a bit counterintuitive to them like “leave it” requires all the pieces to be in the right position before starting.
As always with dog training, start your training of the command in a quiet and familiar environment free of distractions before transitioning to a more complex environment like the yard. Then, test your dog’s training skills in the real world, where there may be many distractions and even other dogs vying for your dog’s attention.
If your dog has struggled through the training session and seems to be forgetting things they already knew, you should save the “leave it” training for another day rather than trying to force your dog into shape. Your dog will be grateful for your leniency, and you’ll save yourself some frustration too.
The “Leave It!” Training Protocol
Meet Emma the Dachshund who has arrived for 3 weeks residential training at Adolescent Dogs. Alongside teaching our…
The best tricks in dog training are the ones that get your dog to figure out the right way of doing things to get the treat. With that being said, wait until the end of a dog training session to start trying to train your dog with this new command.
Prepare a treat, and keep it in your fist. You should be sitting on the ground, or somewhere that your dog can easily get their nose into. At this point, your dog will likely be paying attention to you if you have been having a good training session so far. Now, reveal a tiny amount of the treat in your fist, which will prompt your dog to come closer.
Let your dog nose around the treat, but don’t let them interact with it totally. Before your dog can lick the treat through your fingers, close your fingers and don’t let him. Your dog needs to figure out that you’re not going to give this treat until he leans back a bit. When your dog’s attention strays from the treat and your dog begins to walk away, praise your dog, and deliver the treat.
The hard part comes next. Repeat the above steps until your dog consistently detects the treat held in your fist, but decides to not interact with it.
Once your dog is reliably ignoring a treat that you have revealed, it’s time to introduce the verbal command “leave it.” As your dog decides each time to walk away from your held treat, say “leave it” to begin building the connection between departing from a potentially rewarding stimulus and the sound of you saying “leave it.”
The other hard part begins with the open palm phase of teaching your dog to leave it. Hold a treat in your open palm, and allow your dog to see it, smell it, but not interact with it—when your dog inevitably shows interest in the treat, you should say “leave it.”
Your dog probably isn’t going to listen to your command the first time around, so be ready to quickly close your palm and prevent your dog from getting the treat. If you’ve trained your dog properly up to this point, your dog should know that this is a signal that he needs to go away from the treat because you asked him to leave it.
Try this a few times until your dog understands that when you say, “leave it,” it doesn’t matter whether the object is ripe for the taking or not. Be sure to give your dog the treat once they figure out that listening to your demand is the easiest way to get rewarded with a treat.
Going from concept to reality
You want your dog to generalize the command of “leave it” beyond items in your hand, though. Put a treat on the floor, and when your dog approaches it, give the verbal cue. If your dog scarfs the treat anyway, you may have been pushing your dog a little bit too hard during the training session, so it’s best to go back to basics and end on a high note and try again later.
When walking your dog with the leash, you can use the leash as a negative reinforcement along with the verbal cue by jerking the leash. The trouble is that a dog’s curiosity will be much greater while you’re out for a walk, so you may need to be forgiving the first few times, especially if you don’t have a treat on hand to reward obeying the verbal command without leash jerking.
The ultimate signal that your dog understands the concept of “leave it” is when you are in a busy environment, your dog encounters an object of interest and obeys your command to leave it without any additional enforcement. Be sure to reward your dog when your dog reaches this stage.
Here is a great video on this (for the visual learners in the room):
When Asking Your Dog To “Leave It!” Fails, You’ll Need To Know “Drop It!”
When your dog has a lapse of judgment and picks up an object they shouldn’t be holding after disregarding your command to leave it, you’ll need to know how to teach a dog to “drop it!”.
“Drop it” is an easier command to train than “leave it.” Grab a treat or two, and grab one of your dog’s toys. Let your dog pick up the toy, then reveal the treat while providing the verbal cue to “drop it.” You should be able to tell if you have your dog’s attention via the speed at which you hear his toy hitting the floor.
Just be sure to get enough repetitions in while training “drop it” because your dog will always be willing to let go of a toy in exchange for a treat. For this command, it is especially important to transition your dog to obey your command without a treat in hand, and only with your verbal command and subsequent verbal praise. Remember, your dog always needs praise, even once training ends.
Practice Makes Perfect
You’ll need to hone your dog’s ability to leave it and drop it over the course of many training sessions and real-world tests before moving on to more complicated things like Dutch k9 commands. Your training sessions should be frequent, and short.
Don’t let your training sessions go beyond 20 or 30 minutes at a stretch; that’s about the limit of your dog’s attention span, and you’re probably busy with other things you could be doing anyway. Always try to end training sessions on a high note.
If your dog has been struggling through the training session, try going back to a basic command that your dog will always get right to wrap up the session. Doing this ensures that your dog’s self-esteem remains intact, which is important for your dog’s health.