Teaching A Dog To Leave It

One of the most popular commands among dog owners is Leave it. This command is an essential training tool to help stop a dog from eating everything they find or playing with inappropriate items they find. It can be challenging to teach your dog this command, especially since dogs are designed to be food motivated. This can create a real disconnect with what they think they should be doing and what you want them to do!

Dogs need rules, boundaries, and plenty of constructive training. Traditionally, owners have used a method that involves punishing dogs for bad behavior by striking them with a hand or otherwise disciplining them. In recent years though, it’s been noted that this punishment technique is likely misguided. Learning theory tells us that punishment isn’t effective in changing behavior.

Teaching a dog to leave it is an important skill for them to develop, as it helps prevent them from getting into trouble with their owners.

The first step in teaching a dog to leave it is to get them interested in the item that you want them to leave alone. For example, if you want your dog to leave your shoe alone, put a piece of meat in your shoe and let him smell it. Once he is interested in the smell, put the shoe on the ground and stand over it while making eye contact with him. When he tries to take the food, gently push his head away and say “leave it.” When he finally gives up trying, praise him by saying “good boy” or petting him on his head or chest.

If your dog does not respond right away, try again later when he is hungry so that he is more likely to listen when you tell him “leave it.” If he still does not listen after several tries, then try something different like leaving an empty bowl near where you usually feed him so that he knows there will be food available somewhere else if he listens instead of eating immediately from your hand or dish at mealtime.

Teaching a dog to leave it is not as easy as it sounds, but it is possible. The first thing you need to do is make sure that your dog has mastered the basic commands: sit and stay. If they haven’t, they won’t be able to get the hang of “leave it.”

Once you’ve made sure they know those two commands, you’ll want to start training them in stages. First, get some treats (your dog’s favorite!) and put them on the ground in front of your dog. Then tell them to sit and stay. While they’re sitting there waiting for you to give them permission to eat their treat, pick it up and put it behind your back so that your dog can’t see it anymore. The idea here is that if your dog stays patient while waiting for permission from you instead of grabbing the treat himself then he will learn how important following directions from humans are!

Next, take the same treat and put it on top of something else like a book or another object so that your dog will have to wait even longer before getting his treat this time around. You should gradually increase the time between giving him permission

Teaching A Dog To Leave It

“Leave It” is one of the most important commands you can teach your dog!

When teaching my puppy class just last week, we were discussing “impulse control”, and teaching the dog not to steal things from your hand (close to a “leave it” but without the preemptive command) which is also very important.

I was describing how, when I teach my dogs, I stack treats up their legs while working on the formal “Leave It” command.

Ironically, one couple in my class looked disgusted. “Why, would you even do that?” the man asked.

Even more ironic is that this couple wants their puppy to be a “Service Dog,” which means if any dog in the class should be learning this skill to this degree, it should be their dog!

Service dogs have to lay in popcorn and all kinds of discarded food and must not eat it!

And, because if my dog can pass this test, he is more likely to be able to control himself when something deadly hits the floor.

Let’s face it; there you are standing in the kitchen, getting your morning prescription medications together for the day, when you drop a couple of pills.

What happens if your dog is typically a Hoover (floor vacuum-er) and he swallows your heart pills, your cold medicine, or other deadly pills?

And, don’t just think you can use peroxide and make your dog vomit because this can be worse for some medications.

At best, you are going to rack up hundreds of dollars at the vet.

It is a fairly frequent event, at the vet clinic where I work, that we have to give a dog activated charcoal to lessen the effects of medications and other things they should not have ingested. And, you don’t have activated charcoal at home.

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Most human medications can be fatal for your pet.

Even Tylenol is lethal for dogs and cats.

That moment of panic, when pills spill on the floor, can be lessened if you teach your dog the “Leave It” command.

I have always taught my dogs that “Leave It” meant “do not touch, eat, or even look at the object,” and that definition has stuck with me. I think some people think it’s okay to at least look at a “Leave It” object, but I think that can add difficulty to an already difficult proposal.

“Leave It” means to completely ignore whatever the item or distraction is, from a pill or a hot dog dropped on the floor, to a skateboarder flying past; “Leave It” means LEAVE IT!

This will be easier to teach if you have taught your dog the basics of Impulse Control.

So How Do You Teach Your Dog “Leave It”?

What You Will Need

  • Great Treats
  • Mediocre Treats or Dog Food
  • A Cheap Canvas 2 Pocket Tool Belt
  • A Leash
  • A Clicker
  • Lots of Patience!

Getting Started

Put your dog on a leash and take him to a secluded private place in your home where you can train together, peacefully. This command needs your full attention while he is learning!

I like to use a two-pocket tool belt (just the cheap canvas kind that you can get at Home Depot or a craft store for $1) for this training. I put my GREAT treats in one side and my mediocre treats, or dog food, in the other.

Utilizing this tool makes it easier for me to access the right treat for the right response.

Keep the leash tight as you take a couple of mediocre treats out and place them on the floor out of your dog’s reach.

Make sure he sees you put the treats down and restrict his access to the treats.  Do not pop on the leash or correct him, let him strain for the treats but tell him “Leave It.”

Remain calm and patient.

Ready your clicker!

At first, he should look at and strain himself toward the treat, but soon he will get frustrated that he cannot reach them and he will turn and look away from the treats and toward you because he is discouraged.

At that moment, when he turns and looks away from the treats and looks at you, click and reward him with the GREAT treat!

If he continues to look at you, you can again praise and give a mediocre reward.

Now touch the mediocre treats that are on the floor again or pick them up and put them down again, to get him interested in them once again.

As he looks at them, tell him “Leave It,” and wait until he ignores them and looks toward you; click and “jackpot” him for a correct response.

Continue playing this game until he is hardly focused or not focused at all on the mediocre treats.

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Once he has grasped the concept, you can move the mediocre treats closer to your dog.

Click and jackpot for a good response and continue to try to deny him access to the treats.

Move them closer and closer until he pays no attention at all.

He should now realize the GREAT treats come from you, not the floor and that “Leave It” means he will get a better reward if he listens.

Now, you may begin to use better and better treats as your “Leave It” distraction.

Until he has entirely given up trying to get the “Leave It” treat, make the reward that comes from you better than the one you are using as a distraction.

Now that he is completely ignoring the treats you put down, you can use the same treat as a jackpot.

He should realize the best in life comes from you, not from the floor, or anywhere else.

Hold It

Next, tell him “Leave It” as you hold a treat in one hand.

Click and reward with the opposite hand for a good response. He should be able to leave items you are eating or carrying as well as things on the floor.

Now that this game is fun, you can employ the help of family members and friends by having them try to give him a treat but then telling him to “Leave It.”  If he is really good, have them toss treats at him in an attempt to get him to make a mistake.

Drop It

This can help for those of you who are afraid your dog may be at risk of poisoning.

Now begin dropping food items and telling him “Leave It.”

I have found that “dropping” or “throwing” things makes them look more exciting.

And, remember when your medication hits the floor, it will be dropping and bouncing.

Teach him to control himself in this situation.

Just because it drops and bounces does not mean it is a race to the item to swallow it!

Stack It

Also, proof this behavior by putting food on his feet or up his arms.

He should be able to ignore any distraction at this point, and he should be having a good time knowing that the reward from you will be greater than anything tossed to him or stacked on him!

This should be fun!

You are not scaring him from the distraction; you are simply teaching him that YOU are better than anything else.

If you employ scare tactics, you will likely end up with a dog that only listens while you are right next to him.

If, however, he thinks this is a game, and you might be right around the corner with a game or a wonderful treat, he is much more likely to be successful!

This is good mental stimulation.

At first, it sounds cruel…  “Why would you do that to your dog?”, as asked of me.

“Because I taught my dog from the ground up and let him be successful” is my response.

This stimulates his mind and allows him to play a game that he likes and can win.

And, one day it is likely to save his life!

Now go have some fun with your dog! This is a great party trick, and essential for safety!

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