Teaching the "leave it" command
By Martin Deeley
One of the most useful commands your dog should learn is “leave it.” You can use it in important situations to prevent your dog from picking up something unsafe like food, medicine, and a dangerous or unknown object. You can use it to divert your dog from a place you don’t want him to be like an empty swimming pool. You can also use this command to stop Fido from running after the neighbor’s cat. Using “leave it” effectively will help ensure your dog’s safety, and potentially the safety of other people and pets as well.
How to teach the “leave it” command
The easiest way to train this is by using something your dog wants, such as a treat or a toy. Have a treat in your hand. Hold it between your fingers and thumb, so your dog cannot grab it, and let her see, smell, and even lick it. Then say, “leave it,” and move your hand away.
If the dog tries to follow, close your fingers and do not let her get to your hand. Once she is calm, show her it again, say “leave it,” and once again move your hand away. If she follows your hand and attempts to grab it you can put her on a leash to show her what you are asking for by holding her back, or, do what I do, give her a little bump on the front of the nose as she moves into my hand, then say “leave it.”
Time the reward
When your dog finally make a movement backwards from the treat—and only then—praise her and give her the treat. You can do the same with a toy, if your dog is toy driven.
Some trainers use another—even better treat—in the other hand and when the dog moves away from the first treat they give them the tastier one as the reward. This gives the dog the motivation to respect the “leave it” command to get the more desirable treat.
Whichever technique you choose remember the aim is to cut out all treats and have your dog “leave it” without any motivation other than pleasing and listening to you, her Pack Leader.
Take it to the next level
Next, put your dog on a leash and let her see you drop a treat on the floor. Control her on the leash so she cannot pick it up, then command: “leave it,” and move her away.
Sit her a little ways away from the treat, and then pick it up and give it to her. You want her attention to be focused on you, because the treat or toy comes from you.
If your dog will retrieve, drop a toy he likes to carry, tell him “leave it” and walk away with your dog, leaving the toy behind. When he is following you nicely (a few steps or so), turn around, ask him to sit, then say “fetch” and let him go for it. Over longer distances this may require a long line or when he becomes more responsive to the command and the game, you may practice the exercise off-leash.
Some dogs unfortunately will know the “leave it” command but in some situations where prey drive or instinct comes into play, they cannot control themselves, and will not leave the tempting place or object.
In these instances, you can go back to the leash work and use it where the temptations are greater or you may create a stronger distraction or interrupter to gain her attention, such as dropping an object (a paperback book or a soda can with pebbles in it) at her feet. This makes her think, “When I go for that object, something falls around my feet from the sky.”
Do not indicate in any way it came from you, just say “leave it” and encourage her back with a smile, calmly. Leave the object “that fell from the sky” there until later.
Once you can have your dog off-leash without her picking up pop corn or kibble as you throw it around, or you can walk without her chasing a bicycle, or you can keep her away from playing with your socks, just by using the words “leave it,” you know you are succeeding.
Remember, even with success, keep practicing. It can be a fun game to play with your dog and you can stimulate her mind at the same time!