I love the Leave It cue but I call it the second most ignored cue (after Come!) because so often I see people telling their dog to “leave it” and then just dragging the dog away. The dog did not leave anything, he was just physically removed! If done correctly, Leave It is incredibly useful in “real life” and the cue can transfer to all sorts of different things we want our dog to leave alone – food, garbage, the cat, a toddler etc. My version of Leave it tells the dog not only to back off of the item/being/animal but also to look at me for further instruction. Again, not just backing off the object but removing his focus as well. Like most cues, we add the word last so do not ask your dog to Leave It until you are already getting the behavior. I use Leave It before the object gets in the dog’s mouth and the cue Drop if the item is already in his mouth.

Teaching Leave It:

  • Build a strong connection of engagement between you and your dog (see Focus Games & Cues). Having a strong connections with your dog and specifically a strong reinforcement (training) history of your go being rewarded when they focus on you, is the foundation for all of your training and definitely for Leave It!
  • Play the attention game and reinforce eye contact with you.
  • Hold a treat in your hand far enough away from your dog so he does not grab it.
  • Wait for him to look at you or even just look away from the treat then click (or mark with “yes”) and treat with something from your other hand or a dish close by. 
  • Now, wait for your dog to not only back off the treat but also to LOOK AT YOU. Then click (at the look) & treat. You may use a “kissy” sound (the international signal for “look at me”!) here to get him to look at you if needed.
  • Next, hold a treat in your hand with your thumb at the ready to cover it. Repeat steps above, covering treat with your hand if you have to. At this point, if he is backing off immediately, you can also add the cue “leave it” as you present it.
  • Once your dog has mastered “leave it” in the above steps then try having your dog on a leash and drop a treat on the floor (see video from Kikipup below!) Cue your dog to “leave it” and pass the treat by. Reward your dog with a different treat (not the one on the floor) when he passes it by. You can also allow/teach your dog to “take” the treat you dropped but realistically, we usually do not let him take what ever it is we are asking him to leave.
  • Be careful not to just pull your dog away from the item; he should be leaving it and looking to you for direction here.
  • Start using different objects dropped (squeaky toy, ball etc.), have you dog “leave it” – click & treat.
  • The sky is the limit with this one. Just make sure you are rewarding your dog with something better than the object he is leaving as often as you can (especially at the beginning). This way he learns that if he leaves it he may get something even better!
This might be a good time for a Leave It!
This might be a good time for a Leave It!

Here is another approach to teaching Leave It that we really love from the fabulous KikoPup! Another great resource is Don’t Eat That by Simone Mueller. 

Teaching the concept of Leave It is another approach that I LOVE. To start, we give the dog a high value treat with one hand and then drop lower value treats with the other. The dog learns to leave the low value ones because the higher value one is coming their way. No words even used! You can see an example of that here: Teaching the concept of Leave it

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