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Teach Your Dog to “Leave It!”

A Crucial Command in Obedience Training

Teach your dog to Leave ItYou need this one. Teaching a dog to “leave it” is an effort that will pay you back time and time again.

Just to give you an idea of exactly how useful the “leave it” command is, here’s a short list of times when I use this command:

  • A dog is ill or on medication and is sniffing at dog poop.
  • A dog is staring down the neighborhood cat.
  • A dog is drooling over a juicy steak that I’ve left on the living room table.

You can insert the “leave it” command at any point in your obedience training routine, but I have my reasons for putting this step where it is. Bottom line, no puppy is too young, nor is any dog too old, to learn to “leave it.”

Once your dog is good at obeying the “leave it” command, you will rarely (if ever) need to physically restrain your dog from doing anything.

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Training Method for the “Leave It” Command

As with some of the previous obedience training routines, you’ll start by shaping the behavior, before you attach the “leave it” command phrase.

  1. Start in the usual environment for training – somewhere comfortable and free of distractions.
  2. Put a piece of ordinary food in one hand, and a treat in the other. (It’s also effective to use two different treats – his normal treat, and something extra-special.)
  3. Show your dog the ordinary food in your open hand, and put it close to his face.
  4. When your dog goes to eat the food, close your hand and pull it away.
  5. Repeat the previous step several times until your dog no longer tries to eat the treat. When that happens, praise your dog and feed him the tasty treat in your other hand.
  6. If your dog refuses to lose interest in the food, just leave the treat in your hand but keep it away from him, showing no interest in your dog for a moment. In this case, even though you’re not giving your dog attention, do watch for signs that he has begun losing interest. When that happens, instantly praise him and give the treat.
  7. Keep repeating the previous two steps over and over.
  8. Every time your dog ignores the ordinary food, immediately praise him and give the treat.

Whaddaya mean, Leave It?Once your dog gets the hang of this, it’s time to introduce the verbal “leave it” command. To do this, just repeat the exact steps above, but say “leave it!” when you extend your hand with the normal food.

Remember to repeat many times with the “leave it” command before adding the extra steps below. After that, start to add some challenges, to add more obedience into the training. You can do these in any order, just remember that every time you add something to the training, only add one new change at a time and do lots of repetition before adding another challenge.

  • Change where you place your hand when you offer the food he’s meant to ignore.
  • Increase the amount of time your dog must ignore the offered food before you praise him. If your dog looks you in the eye instead of going for the food, go ahead and praise him.
  • Put the ordinary food on the floor, say “leave it,” and then stand up. Cover it with your foot if he goes after it, and reward the right behavior, which is to either show disinterest in the food, or to look at you.
  • Add distractions or new environments to the training session.
  • Try the training when you are not “hovering over” your dog.
  • Drop treats on the ground when you’re walking your dog, saying “leave it” as you continue walking away from the treat together.

Remember, training sessions should be short enough that your dog doesn’t get worn out from the brain activity. Also remember that you don’t want your dog to believe you’ve suddenly started denying him food! Either of those mistakes will make the training less effective, and can lead to other problems such as dog food aggression.

There’s plenty more you could learn about the “leave it” command, especially when it comes to the practical, day-to-day situations like preventing aggression towards other animals. For these reasons and others, I suggest you look at the Do-It-Yourself Dog Training Package, which goes into detail on all kinds of obedience training practices.

Return to training a dog at home, or learn about other steps in obedience training.

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