How To Teach Your Dog To “Leave It”

by | Jan 14, 2020 | Articles | 0 comments

“Leave it” is a powerful skill that can potentially save your dog’s life. 

Litter, baited meat, and pesticides can all lurk along your walk, and if your dog is not trained to keep their nose out of “street food”,  it may take just one bite to cause serious harm. 

Use A Muzzle To Curb Trash Eating

While your dog is still in training, you can keep them from eating trash with a muzzle. A basket muzzle is not unpleasant for your dog if it’s properly fitted and you have done some muzzle training. Your dog should be able to open their mouth, pant, and drink water while wearing their muzzle.

What Does “Leave It” Actually Look Like?

When you ask your dog to “leave it”, they should make eye contact with you and walk past the forbidden item. 

You should not have to yank at the leash to pull them away. However, if you’re still working on training and your dog is about to eat something dangerous, you may need to pull them away to keep them safe. 

How To Teach “Leave It”

“Leave it” begins with a simple, easy game. Grab two tasty, healthy training treats and sit on the floor next to your pup. 

Place one treat in the palm of your hand and let your dog investigate, but do not let them take it. Close your hand or pull it away when your dog gets too close. There’s no need to say anything at this point. 

After a few tries, your dog will give up. The moment they start to back off and look up at you for guidance, praise them lavishly and offer them that second treat. 

Repeat this exercise a few times. As your dog starts to figure out what you expect of them, you can start to add the cue “leave it”. 

Now that your dog knows how to leave a treat in your hand while you’re sitting on the floor, you can move on to bigger challenges. Try standing when you ask your dog to leave a treat on the floor that you can cover with your foot if needed. 

Start taking treats on your walks. Every bit of interesting trash can be a training opportunity. When you encounter something that your dog finds intriguing, ask them to “leave it,” and encourage them to make eye contact with you. 

What If My Dog Doesn’t Listen?

Inevitably, your dog will go for a treat before you’re able to stop them. There’s no need to punish them or startle them if they make a mistake. 

Only physically intervene if your dog has picked up something dangerous, like trash from outside. If your dog won’t take a treat in exchange for the trash, offer them a treat after you remove the trash from their mouth. Take care when taking items from your dog, as stressful situations can cause or exacerbate resource guarding issues. 

If your dog is having trouble resisting tempting items, you can practice training with a less desirable item. For example, you can use a piece of kibble or even a toy as the forbidden object, then  use fresh chicken or turkey as the reward. 

Always set your dog up for success. Only move forward with one variable at a time. For example, you can graduate from leaving a piece of kibble to leaving a piece of steak, OR you can move on from practicing in the living room to practicing in the backyard, but not both at once. 

Advanced “Leave It”

Try leaving something yummy along a path where you often walk your dog, and then see if you can get your dog to refocus on you when you walk past.

You can also try having your dog sit and stay, placing a target item between you and your dog. Then, ask them to come to you. Do they stop and eat the treat, or do they come to you right away? 

“Leave it” does not always apply to food. You can also ask your dog to leave the cat alone or the squirrel at the park. 

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