Image by Charles Deluvio

Leave It!

Dogs will eat anything! They are faster than us, too. Leave It can save their life when you drop medicine on the floor or spill a box of chocolates. It is also useful for cats, other dogs, squirrels, people on bicycles or skateboards, anything you want your dog to "leave".

How it's Done

You know the drill by now. Work through the levels until successful. Go back a level if your dog is struggling with one.

Using "Leave It" for Safety

The "Leave it" cue is not just a fun trick to show your friends. Dogs will for real eat just about anything. They are like toddlers who put everything in their mouths! The goal of the "Leave It" cue is to tell your dog to remove all focus on whatever it is they are starting to focus on. "Fuggedaboutit!" 
 

If we put a treat on the ground in front of our dogs, tell them to "Leave It", wait a few beats and then say "OK", you can have it... will they 'Fuggedaboutit'? Not likely. They will stare at it, anticipation building, until you give them permission to pounce. That is not what we want when the thing you're telling them to leave could kill them, or they could kill it. 

When you say "Leave It", it means walk away from it, don't think about it anymore!

Step-By-Step

LEVEL 1

Remove focus from a treat in your closed hand

  1. Since "Leave It" means 'you can't have it', you'll need 2 treats for this exercise. One is what your dog has to leave. The other is their reward for leaving it.

  2. Hold the reward treat behind your back. 

  3. Hold the "leave it" treat in the palm of your hand directly under your dog's chin. Say "Leave It" and close your hand over the treat.

  4. Keep your hand still while your dog licks it, paws at it, etc. trying to get the treat. 

  5. The instant your dog looks away from your hand, say "GOOD JOB!" and give them the treat that is behind your back. Do NOT give the one they "left". 

  6. Repeat several times.

Success Criteria

This level is successful when your dog either turns away from your hand when you say "Leave It" OR refuses to look at your hand at all..

LEVEL 2

Leave a treat in your open hand

  1. Follow the same steps as level 1 but try to keep your hand open so your dog has access to the treat.

  2. Be quick to close your hand over the treat if they try to grab it. Open it again when they move away. 

  3. Continue to close and open your hand until your dog successfully removes their focus from the treat in your open hand. 

  4. Say "GOOD DOG!" and give them the treat from your other hand.

  5. Repeat until you no longer need to close your hand over the treat for your dog to leave it.

Success Criteria

This level is successful when your dog either turns away from the treat in your open hand when you say "leave it" or refuses to look at the treat at all.

LEVEL 3

Leave a treat dropped on the ground

  1. Get a hard treat that will not smoosh if you step on it.

  2. Drop the treat directly in between you and your dog and cue "Leave It".

  3. Step on the treat if your dog tries to eat it. Be fast! If your dog keeps getting the treat you dropped, they are learning that "Leave it" means 'hurry up and grab it before you cover it up'. Not what you want if it's a pill dropped on the floor!

  4. The second your dog turns their attention away from the treat, say "GOOD!" and give them a treat from your treat bag. 

  5. Pick up the 'leave it' treat from the floor and do not give it to your dog. 

  6. Repeat several times.

Success Criteria

This level is successful when your dog either turns away from the dropped treat when you say "leave it" or refuses to look at the treat at all without the need to cover it with your foot.

LEVEL 4

Turn around and move away from a treat on the ground

  1. Have your dog on leash.

  2. With your dog standing in front of you, toss a treat in front of your dog and cue "Leave it!". (Your dog will be between you and the treat).

  3. The treat should be no more than 1-3" from your dog's reach. Be ready to catch them with the leash so they do not get the treat, but do not pull them away from it. Use the leash as a brake and not a steering wheel.

  4. Hang out and wait. Do NOT repeat the cue. The second your dog removes their attention from the treat, say "GOOD DOG!".

  5. Back up a few steps so your dog turns around to face you, putting their back to the treat on the ground, then feed them a treat from your bag.

  6. Repeat several times.

Success Criteria

This level is successful when your dog turns around to face you when you say "Leave It" and you don't need to use the leash to stop them from eating the treat on the ground.

LEVEL 5 

Turn around and move away from an object on the ground

  1. Repeat level 4 with objects instead of a treat.

  2. Use things that will not harm your dog if they happen to get it. Toilet paper roll cob, tupperware, shoe, etc.

Success Criteria

This level is successful when your dog turns around to face you when you say "Leave It" and you don't need to use the leash to stop them from grabbing the object.

LEVEL 6

Walk past treats and objects on the ground and leave them

  1. Place treats and objects on the ground roughly 3-5' apart.

  2. With your dog on-leash, walk them past the treats and objects on a loose leash. 

  3. Cue the "Leave it" if they try to go for them. Be ready to stop them with the leash (brake) but do not pull them away (steering wheel). 

  4. For each treat or object your dog leaves, say "YES!" and give them a treat reward from your treat bag. 

  5. Pick up all the treats and objects and do not give them to your dog.

Success Criteria

This level is successful when your dog walks on a LOOSE LEASH and does not need to be restrained by the leash to keep them from grabbing the treats or objects.

LEVEL 7

Leave It without a Leash

  1. Time to remove the training wheels and test your Leave It without a leash.

  2. Do Levels 3 - 6 with no leash on.

  3. If your dog fails to leave it 3 times in a row, STOP! Practice more with the leash on before trying again.
    If your dog keeps getting the treat or object you tell them to leave, they are learning that "Leave it" means 'hurry up and grab it before you do'. Not what you want if it's poison!

Success Criteria

This level is successful when your dog leaves things when cued without a leash on.

LEVEL 8

Cold Trials and Real-World Use

  1. Set up a cold trial to test that your dog understands Leave It outside of a training session.

  2. "Plant" something on the ground out of sight of your dog. Bring them in the room and use the "Leave It" cue. 

  3. Or, "accidentally" drop something and use the "Leave It" cue. 

  4. Take a walk with your dog and use "Leave It" for things like dead frogs or trash along the roadway.

Success Criteria

This level is successful when your dog leaves things found on the ground when asked.