Teach Your Dog the Leave It Command

Behavior and Training  •  Jasey Day  •  Thursday, May 14, 2020

Most dog owners experience a moment of horror when they see their dog about to eat or pick up something dangerous. Some dogs have a “eat it now, ask questions later” policy for consuming interesting items! This can be threatening to your dog for many reasons, one of which is that what they're eating could be a poison danger for dogs. If your dog eats something that cannot be passed easily, you may be looking at your pup needing foreign body ingestion surgery which can run around $2,000 or more! One way to help defray the costs of unexpected vet bills is by enrolling your pet with pet insurance. Pet insurance can reimburse you for eligible conditions such as foreign body ingestion, toxin ingestion, and much more!

The "leave it" command

To prevent the emotional, physical and financial cost of an ill dog, owners should teach dogs some essential cues, such as the “leave it” command.

The “leave it” command means leave a certain object alone - do not pick it up, smell it or look at it! The dog does not already have the item in his mouth when using this command. 

How to teach "leave it"

To begin, you need a hungry dog on leash, treats and a clicker (optional). Using a clicker or saying “yes” designates the exact moment that the dog did something right and tells the dog that a treat is coming! Substitute the “yes” word if you do not want to click.

  1. In your left hand, hold the leash, a clicker and a treat. In your right hand, have another treat. Remain silent until step 5.
  2. Have the dog on a shortened leash; if the leash is 6 feet long, give 3 feet.
  3. Place the right hand’s treat under your shoe. The dog should show interest in your shoe by sniffing or pawing. Then wait patiently and silently. To ensure the dog has disengaged from the item, teach the dog to look at your upper body.
  4. When the dog looks up at your upper body (without any prompting by you), click and deliver the treat from the left hand. Do NOT let the dog grab the treat off of the floor. We do not want the dog to think “leave it” means look at my handler and then dive to eat the object that was left alone.
  5. After two successful repetitions, say “leave it” (only say it once!) when the dog first becomes interested in the treat under your shoe.
  6. Increase difficulty by dropping the treat from higher heights (mid-calf, knee, hip) and by not covering the treat with your shoe.
  7. The dog learns muscle memory of head checking toward your upper body and that leaving items pays off, “If I leave it, I get a reward!”

Increasing difficulty

Once your dog has successfully mastered "leave it" as described above, increase the difficulty of the command.

  1. Put your dog in another room or have another person hold your dog out of sight. Place 3 treats in a line on the floor – the treats a few feet apart. Get your leashed dog and have 3 more treats in your hand.
  2. Allow the dog to walk near and see the first treat. Have the leash short enough so that the dog cannot obtain the treat on the floor. Do not yank the leash; keep your arm steady.
  3. When the dog is interested in the first treat on the floor, say “leave it.” Wait for your dog to look at your upper body. When he does, click and treat out of your hand. Repeat for the 2nd and 3rd treats on the floor.
  4. Practice in every room and outside. Eventually use toys and other objects for your dog to leave. You will always reward out of your hand, but you will not give the dog the item on the floor.

Practice this skill frequently to ensure your pup retains a solid "leave it". This command could come in handy if your dog has found something toxic or dangerous and is on his way to eating it! 

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