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How to Teach a Dog to Leave It: Mastering the Essential Command

Training your dog to understand and obey the “Leave it” command is an essential component of their overall obedience and safety. It teaches them self-control and provides you with the means to prevent them from touching or picking up potentially dangerous items. Whether it’s food on the sidewalk or a tempting object during a walk, “Leave it” is about setting boundaries clearly and compassionately.

A dog sits obediently as a treat is placed on the ground. The owner commands "leave it" as the dog hesitates, then eventually turns away

To start, we need to establish positive associations with the command and ensure our dog understands that following it leads to a reward. This practice is not only about prohibition but also about teaching our dogs that attention to us can be more rewarding than whatever has caught their interest. Consistency in training sessions, patience, and a good understanding of reinforcement strategies are key to successfully teaching your dog this important command.

Key Takeaways

  • Teaching “Leave it” enhances a dog’s self-control and safety.
  • Positive associations and rewards are crucial for learning the command.
  • Consistency and patience are necessary for effective training.

Understanding ‘Leave It’

A dog sits obediently, eyes fixed on a tempting treat on the ground. Its body language shows restraint as it resists the urge to grab the treat, demonstrating the concept of "leave it."

In this section, we will explore the natural tendencies of dogs and the crucial role that impulse control plays in teaching the “Leave It” command.

Inherent Dog Behavior

Dogs naturally use their senses to explore the world, which often involves investigating and picking up objects with their mouths. Their instinct to scavenge is deeply ingrained and can lead to potentially dangerous situations when they encounter harmful items. It’s crucial to recognize that dog behavior is not designed with human notions of safety in mind, hence our role in guiding them.

Importance of Impulse Control

Impulse control is critical for a dog’s safety and overall behavior. “Leave It” teaches dogs to override their basic instincts and abstain from touching or consuming what they find. This command is not only a testament to obedience but also acts as a protective measure. By mastering impulse control, dogs learn to look to us for guidance when they encounter something new or intriguing, rather than acting on instinct alone.

Preparing for Training

A dog sits attentively as a trainer holds a treat in one hand and gestures with the other, teaching the dog to "leave it."

Before we begin teaching our dog the “Leave It” command, we need to lay the groundwork to ensure a successful training session. Choosing the right reinforcement and understanding the use of a marker are critical components for clear communication and to positively build on the behavior we want from our dog.

Selection of Treats

Choosing the right treat is vital for the “Leave It” training. We’ll select a high-value treat that’s irresistibly tasty for our dog—something that’s more appealing than the items they’ll be learning to ignore. However, it’s a good idea to have both high-value treats and lower-value treats or kibble on hand; the higher-value treats will be used to reward particularly good responses, while the lower-value options can be used for exercises that our dog finds less challenging.

Using Clicker as a Marker

A clicker serves as an effective marker to pinpoint the exact moment our dog performs the desired behavior. By clicking at the precise instant our dog disengages from the treat or toy we’ve asked them to leave, we are clearly communicating which action has earned them a reward. We’ll ensure our clicker is readily available and that we’ve established the clicker as a positive reinforcement tool before starting the “Leave It” training exercise. If we’ve conditioned our dog properly, the sound of the click will let them know a treat is on its way, bolstering their learning process with immediate feedback.

Basic Training Steps

A dog sitting on the ground, looking up at a treat placed just out of reach. The dog is focused and waiting for a command to leave it

Before we dive into the specifics, let’s understand that consistency, patience, and positive reinforcement are the cornerstones of teaching any new command, particularly ‘leave it’. Each step below builds on the previous one, so ensure you’re confident at each stage before progressing.

Introducing the Cue

We begin by familiarizing our dog with the ‘leave it’ cue. We use a treat in our hand, allowing the dog to smell but not have it. Once they stop sniffing or licking, we say “leave it” and immediately reward with a different treat, reinforcing the connection between the cue and the desired action.

Teaching the Behavior

Once the cue is introduced, we work on associating the behavior with the command. We place a treat on the floor, covering it with our hand or foot. We issue the ‘leave it’ cue, and if the dog moves away, we instantly give a reward from elsewhere, not the one on the floor. This teaches them that ‘leaving it’ leads to better rewards.

Adding Distractions

With the basic behavior down, we introduce distractions to the training. We practice the ‘leave it’ command in a controlled environment with more temptations. By gradually increasing the level of distraction, we’re preparing our dog to respond reliably regardless of the situation.

Practicing in Real-World Situations

Finally, we take our training out into real-world situations. We practice ‘leave it’ during walks, in the presence of other dogs, or when encountering food scraps on the street. The goal is to have our dog effortlessly respond to the cue in any environment, ensuring their safety and the peace of other community members.

Reinforcement Strategies

A dog sitting calmly as a toy or treat is placed in front of it. The owner gives a command, and the dog obediently leaves the item untouched

In training our dogs to “leave it,” our tactics are as important as our patience. We’ll discuss the effective reinforcement strategies that will encourage our dogs to learn and abide by the command.

Click and Treat Technique

The click and treat technique is essential for marking the exact moment our dog performs correctly. Click to signal they did something right, then immediately follow it with a treat. This clear communication helps our dogs understand the desired behavior.

Positive Reinforcement

We use positive reinforcement to make learning a pleasant experience for our dogs. By rewarding them with praise, treats, or play, we are making sure that good behavior is acknowledged and thus more likely to be repeated.

Voice and Body Cues

Our voice and body language play a critical role in commanding our dogs. When we ask them to “leave it,” speaking in a cheerful yet firm tone, coupled with consistent body movement, like stepping between the dog and the item, reinforces the command. With time and consistent practice, they will learn to respond just to our vocal cue.

Advanced Training Concepts

A dog sits calmly as a toy or treat is placed in front of it. The dog is then instructed to "leave it" and waits for permission to take the item

In advancing our ‘Leave It’ command, we focus on ensuring that our dogs understand and respond consistently, especially in situations that involve higher stakes, such as encountering toxic hazards.

From ‘Leave It’ to ‘Drop It’

Once our dogs have mastered the ‘Leave It’ command, our next step is to teach them ‘Drop It.’ ‘Drop It’ is crucial when they’ve already picked up something potentially dangerous. Start by presenting a less-valued toy and when they grab it, offer a higher-value treat. Upon their release of the toy, we say “Drop It,” and immediately reward them. This process not only reinforces the new command but solidifies their understanding of ‘Leave It’ when we prevent the grab in the first place.

Building Distance and Duration

Building distance involves us asking our dogs to ‘Leave It’ with the treat or object placed progressively further away. We start close and then increase the distance in small increments, only progressing when they respond correctly. Duration refers to the length of time we expect our dogs to refrain from taking the bait. We begin with a few seconds before releasing them with a release cue.

Technique Highlights:

  • Start at a short distance, increase gradually
  • Begin duration training with seconds, then slowly to minutes
  • Always reward for correctly following ‘Leave It’ or ‘Drop It’

Training consistency is key, and for potentially toxic items, we must be especially diligent. If we’re finding any of these steps particularly challenging, it may be beneficial to consult a professional dog trainer. Their expertise can provide personalized strategies for our dogs, especially when dealing with hazardous materials.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

When teaching your dog the “Leave It” command, it’s normal to encounter some hurdles. The following tips will help us address the common issues effectively and ensure that our dog understands and follows our guidance.

Lack of Focus

If our dog is easily distracted and lacks focus, we can start by minimizing distractions during training sessions. We’ll ensure a quiet environment and gradually introduce distractions at a level our dog can handle. Practicing eye contact can reinforce focus, as it encourages our dog to pay attention to us instead of the environment.

Dog Picks Up Hazard

In instances where our dog picks up something potentially toxic, like a chicken bone, it’s critical to remain calm. We can trade the bone with a high-value treat to motivate our dog to drop the hazardous item. This reinforcing exchange teaches our dog that obeying the “Leave It” command leads to a better reward.

Separation Anxiety Related

Separation anxiety can manifest in destructive behaviors when we’re absent. To help our dog cope, we can create a positive association with being alone. This might involve providing a special toy or treat that they only get when we’re not around to offer comfort. We should also practice leaving and returning at irregular intervals to reduce our dog’s anxiety associated with our departure cues.

Integrating Training into Daily Life

We recognize that consistency is key in dog training, so integrating the “Leave It” command into your daily activities is an effective strategy. By doing this, your dog will learn to obey the command in various situations, reinforcing their training.

During Walks

During walks, it’s crucial to keep a firm grip on the leash as we encounter countless distractions. For instance, if our dog becomes fixated on something, we can command them to “Leave It” and then guide their movement in another direction. By repeatedly practicing this on our regular walking route, the command becomes a natural part of our dog’s walking behavior.

Around the Home

Within the home, we create controlled scenarios that mimic potential temptations. Put an item on the floor and use a firm “Leave It.” If the dog averts their attention, reward them with a treat from a different location. This approach helps prevent unwanted behaviors such as chasing a household pet or snagging food from the table.

At the Dog Park

The dog park offers a unique training opportunity with a variety of distractions. While there, we ensure our dog is on a long lead for safety. We use the “Leave It” command to redirect their focus away from other dogs’ toys or food. Positive reinforcement is given when they come back to us instead of engaging in the taboo activity. This reinforces good behavior even in stimulating environments.

Professional Guidance

When teaching your dog the “Leave It” command, we understand that it might be challenging. If you’re struggling to communicate effectively with your pet, or if your dog isn’t responding well to your training efforts, seeking the help of a professional dog trainer can be beneficial. These experts have specialized training and certifications that qualify them to assist with behavior modification and obedience training.

When to Seek a Trainer

  • Complex Behaviors: If “Leave It” training progresses beyond general obedience or involves rectifying aggressive behavior, seeking a professional is advisable.
  • Lack of Progress: Should attempts to teach “Leave It” repeatedly fail, a trainer can offer new strategies and insights.

Certifications Explained

  • CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed):

    • Validates a trainer’s knowledge of dog behavior, learning theory, and training techniques.
    • Requires a minimum of 300 hours of training experience.
  • CBCC-KA (Certified Behavior Consultant Canine – Knowledge Assessed):

    • For trainers specializing in behavior modification, particularly concerning anxiety, aggression, or other behavioral issues.
    • Requires a higher level of expertise than CPDT-KA and focuses on more complex behavior problems.


  • Luke Schneider

    1. Age: 29
    2. Lives In: Tampa, FL
    3. Interests: Tennis, sustainable living, and classical music
    4. Favorite Dog: German Shepherd, for their intelligence, discipline, and versatility.
    What I Enjoy About Writing: "I love sharing stories that highlight the dog-human connection, which is so powerful. Outside of crafting articles, I'm usually hanging with my German Shepherd, Max, or trying to catch fish in Tampa Bay."