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How to teach a dog to 'leave it'? The pet parent guide.

By Daniel Mar Journalist

Updated on the

Pet owners use the "leave it" command to prevent a dog from picking things up - or to ask them to drop them. Learn some tips on how to teach a dog to ‘leave it’ on cue.

Many pet parents wonder if there is a command that they can give to keep their dogs away from any potentially life-threatening mess. Fortunately, there is, and it is called the “leave it” command! Every dog lover should know how to teach a dog to ‘leave it’. It is a must! This article will help you learn everything there is to know about this great command. Afterwards, you will be able to use it under any circumstances.


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Where to begin?

The most basic thing about the “leave it” command is the marker word. It should be a short word, like “yes” or “good”. Whenever you use it, try to maintain the same tone of voice so that your dog learns it. Likewise, every training session should be kept short and cheerful. Try to practise for 2-3 minutes, any more than that is not advisable. Long training sessions can frustrate dogs.

How to train a dog to ‘leave it’? Follow these steps

Step 1

Start training this command by sitting on the ground with your dog. You should have two types of treats with you: tasty and regular. Put the regular treats in one hand and place the tasty treats somewhere else. Once you place the treats in your hand, make a fist and show it to your dog. There is a high probability that your dog will quickly try everything to get the treats. Do not let him!  Whenever he stops trying to get to the treats in your hand, mark that behaviour (use a clicker or marker word). Afterwards, give him a tasty treat from the separate stash. You should never give your dog a treat from the hand you were preventing them from eating the treats from. This teaches him that some things are off limits. After a few practice sessions, your dog should not even notice your closed fist with the regular treats. When this occurs, it is time to start saying the command for “leave-it” before showing your closed fist.

Step 2

Once your dog is ignoring your closed fist, you have to increase the difficulty. You should present your closed fist and then, as you slowly open your palm, say the “leave-it” command.  Your dog might attempt to take this opportunity to try to steal the treats. But if this happens, you should close your fist before your dog can get to them and then try again. Eventually, he will learn not to do so. As soon as you can open your palm with the exposed treats and your dog leaves them alone, ‘mark’ the behaviour and give him a tasty treat.

Step 3

Once your dog understands the leave-it command in regards to treats in your hand, it is time to move the treats to the floor. Place the regular treats under a cupped palm on the floor right in front of your dog. Say the “leave-it” command. As soon as your dog leaves your hand alone mark and reward. Once your dog does well with this, then it’s time to increase the difficulty again. Start to draw back your hand over the treats on the ground. Then, while saying the “leave-it” command, lift it away from the treats on the ground. Again, be careful in case your dog tries to steal them.  As soon as your dog does not try to take the treats, mark and reward.

Step 4

Lastly, place your dog on a lead. Hold the lead relatively short but make sure that your dog can still move around. While holding the lead, toss any object (that your dog fancies) on the floor just out of reach from him. Your dog should try to get to the object. Say the “leave-it” command. Once your dog stops trying to get the object, mark and reward. In time, when you drop the object and give the command, your dog will look to you instead for a better reward. Nonetheless, remember not to let your dog have the object on the floor you are asking them to leave. After you have mastered these 4 steps, then you know how to teach a dog to leave it! Congrats!

Final considerations

Indeed, once your dog masters the "leave it" command with treats, start to practice it with other items. You can begin to use his favourite toy and tell him to leave it. When he starts to backs off, give him his treat. Never stop practising. Even though you know how to teach a dog to leave it, you need to prove that you can really train your dog. This will take time and sacrifice. But never stop practising. You never know when the “leave it” command will be useful!

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