How and Why to Teach Your Dog “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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.