Step by Step Dog Training Guide for "Leave It"

A complete training guide
By Elizabeth Kennedy, November 2011, Updated May 2020
train dog leave it

to us, the idea of eating food wrappers, horse poop and other smelly things found on the ground is gross. To your dog, it’s like walking into a room filled with French pastries and desserts—and they’re free! They can also be extraordinarily dangerous.

Leave-it, a cue that asks your dog to leave something alone, is up there among the most useful things you can teach your dog. Think of it this way: your dog might not stop chasing that deer into traffic on her own, but with an airtight leave-it cue you can stop her in her tracks and save her life. So whether it’s another dog, that slice of pizza on the edge of the counter, a squirrel, the person uninterested in your dog’s attention, or the baby’s toys, anything can be protected from unwanted attention with a well-practiced leave-it. Here’s a short drill you can practice with your dog every day to master this essential technique. Change your dog’s hazardous habit by reviewing the steps and video below.

What You’ll Need

  • A hungry dog
  • Two kinds of treats (one far more delicious than the other)

Teach Your Dog to Leave It

1. Begin with one of the ordinary treats in an open palm. Lower it to where your dog can see it.
 

2. When your dog tries to take the treat, close your hand around it. She will likely nudge at the treat. Ignore this behavior. Ignore any behavior attempting to pry the treat out of your hand. What you’re waiting for is even the slightest hesitation in interest.
 

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3. The moment your dog shows even a fleeting second of hesitation in trying to wrest that treat from your hand, you bring one of the better treats out in your other open palm.
 

4. The dog gets this treat as a reward for that moment’s hesitation.

In repeating this drill over the course of days or weeks, you are building up your dog’s skills by waiting for incrementally longer hesitations until it becomes clear she is beginning to understand.
 

5. Here, Stella is showing more restraint than she did the first time she was shown the treat.
 

6. Still more restraint is being shown here. At this point, you can begin to integrate the verbal cue, saying “leave it” when the dog makes the move for the first treat. If she listens the first time, she gets the better treat in the other hand. If she doesn’t, the fist closes, you wait, and you try again together.

As with any training, don’t force the dog. Work slowly within the dog’s physical and emotional comfort zone to avoid falls. Training should be fun and your dog will learn better if she's happy and not frustrated. Be patient!

Photography by Kira Stackhouse