Dog Training Guide – 2.7 – ‘Leave It’ Command

The “Leave It” Command

The “Leave It” dog obedience training command is a very useful behavior to teach your puppy or older dog. You’ll be surprised how often you find yourself calling on this command.

The “Leave It” command is great in many day to day situations. If you are out on a walk and your dog tries to eat animal droppings (coprophagia) off the grass or if you catch him in the process of clutching a cookie off the coffee table the “Leave It” command is perfect.

You can begin to teach the “Leave It” command at any time – it’s just as necessary as the other basic obedience training commands such as sit, down, come, stay etc.

Follow the steps below to build your “Leave It” command. You’ll end up having your dog under voice control – no need to be yanking and pulling against your dog with the leash.

The Seven-Step Guide:

First we need to build the behavior, then we’ll attach our verbal “Leave It” cue and finally we’ll then generalize the behavior.

  • In a familiar environment to your dog, free from any distractions (other people or animals) sit down in front of your willing dog.
    • In one hand place an ordinary “Leave It” treat (some kibble or other plain dry treat) in the other hand place your dog’s very favorite “jackpot!” treat (liver, hotdog, cheese etc.).
    • With the ordinary “Leave It” treat resting on your open palm, extend your hand out towards your dog. Don’t say anything. When your dog reaches forward to gulp down the treat, quickly close your hand – don’t let him get it. If he withdraws his interest, immediately say “Yes!” and give the jackpot treat from your other hand. Alternatively, if he is really persistent and determined to get at the kibble treat in your closed fist, just hold it out of his reach and ignore him.
    • About 10 seconds after trying Step 3, do it again. This time if he doesn’t dive straight in after the “Leave It” treat, enthusiastically say “Yes!”, give the jackpot treat from your other hand and give him a loving scratch behind the ear. If he goes for the ordinary “Leave It” treat straight away, close your fingers over it again. He will probably look up at you in a quizzical, puzzled manner – which is good. As soon as his attention is off the treat say “Yes!” give the jackpot treat from your other hand and praise his good work.
    • Continue Steps 3 & 4 many times (repetition and consistency are two of the vital keys to successful dog training!). Pretty soon your dog will catch on that if he doesn’t go for the boring old “Leave It” treat he will be rewarded with a monster “jackpot” treat from the other hand.
    • Now your dog understands the basic behavior it’s time to attach your verbal “Leave It” cue. This is so we can request the behavior whenever the need arises. Continue practicing exactly as you have been except you now say “Leave It” just as you begin to extend your hand (the one with the ordinary treat) towards the dog. This step builds an association in your dog’s mind between you saying “Leave It” and the act of him leaving an object alone.
    • Now you’ve got the behavior and you’ve got it on cue it’s time to add some other variables. This step generalizes and proofs the “leave it” command so we can rely on it in any circumstance. One at a time introduce the new elements listed below – don’t move too quickly for your dog, take it slowly.
  • While practicing the Leave It command hold your hand in different positions – close to the ground, up at your dog’s eye level etc…
  • Hold off with saying “Yes” and giving the jackpot treat until your dog actually looks you in the eye.
  • Put the ordinary treat straight down onto the ground in front of your dog and say “Leave It” – if your dog goes for the treat quickly cover it with your foot.
  • Take your training sessions into other rooms and eventually outside.
  • Say “Leave It” when you are at varying distances from your dog.
  • Practice in the presence of distractions such as other people and dogs.
  • Practice when you are out on your daily walk – with your dog on leash drop some treats on the ground and then walk past them.

The Leave It command is very useful and not all that difficult for your dog to learn, it won’t take long to teach. The important thing to keep in mind is that you need to make leaving the object alone a more attractive alternative to your dog than going for it.

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