Leave It

“Leave it” is a great behaviour to teach dogs to leave items around the home or outside on the ground. This is a life-saving cue and deserves a LOT of dedicated training time in your dog’s life. This process outlined below may take a matter of days to work through – don’t rush it! Work at your dog’s pace and set them up for success! 

How to prepare:

  • Prepare a good-sized portion of tasty pea-sized treats and place them in your treat pouch
  • Prepare one larger treat that is of high value to your dog. This is your “bait treat” – you can consider this to be the thing you don’t want your dog to have. 

How to train:

Level 1 : Hold the bait treat in your hand and show it to your dog briefly before you close your fist around it so that they cannot sneak their tongue between your fingers. Wait patiently and keep your closed hand still, right at nose-level for your dog. They will likely lick and nose at your hand, maybe even paw at it or nibble! The nanosecond your dog stops pestering you for the food and pulls their nose away from your hand, say “YES!” and then feed them a treat from your treat pouch while you hide your bait treat hand behind your back. Re-present the bait treat in a closed fist at nose-level for your dog and repeat the process 4 more times. Over time you should see that your dog backs off of your hand much faster! 

Level 1 – Adding the Cue: Repeat the steps above, but after presenting the treat, when your dog is engaging with your hand, say “leave it!” and wait patiently. When they stop pestering, say “YES!” and then feed them a treat from your treat pouch while you hide the bait treat. Repeat this exact process 4 more times. Over time you should see that your dog backs off of your hand when you say “leave it”! Be sure that you do NOT repeat the cue. Say it only one time and be patient.

Level 2: Hold the bait treat in your open hand and present it to your dog. Say “leave it” (just one time!). They will try to grab it, but you will close your hand (silently) before they can get it. Wait until they stop pestering and then open your hand again. Repeat this process until your dog does NOT try to take the treat from your open hand. When this occurs, say “YES!” and then feed them a treat from your treat pouch while you hide your bait treat hand behind your back. Repeat the process 4 more times. 

Level 3: Repeat Level 2, but require more duration before you say “YES!” and feed a treat from your treat pouch. Start with 1 second, build to 2 seconds, build to 3 seconds, then finally up to 5 seconds. 

Level 4: Place the bait treat on the floor in front of your dog, about 1 foot away from them. Say “leave it” (just one time!) and be ready to cover it with your hand (silently) if they go for it. Wait until they stop pestering and then remove your hand to expose the treat on the floor. Repeat this process until your dog does NOT try to take the treat from the floor. When this occurs, say “YES!” and then feed them a treat from your treat pouch while you cover your bait treatto prevent them from grabbing that too! Repeat the process 4 more times. 

Level 5: Stand in front of your dog and place the bait treat on the floor in front of your dog, about 1 foot away from them. Say “leave it” (just one time!) and be ready to cover it with your foot (silently) if they go for it. Wait until they stop pestering and then remove your foot to expose the treat on the floor. Repeat this process until your dog does NOT try to take the treat from the floor. When this occurs, say “YES!” and then feed them a treat from your treat pouch while you cover your bait treat to prevent them from grabbing that too! Repeat the process 4 more times. 

Level 6: Stand near your dog and drop the bait treat on the floor in front of your dog, about 2-3 feet away from them. Say “leave it” (just one time!) as it’s on the way to the floor and be ready to cover it with your foot (silently) if they go for it. Wait until they stop pestering and then remove your foot to expose the treat on the floor. When they back off for 1-2 seconds, say “YES!” and then feed them a treat from your treat pouch while you pick up your bait treat for another repetition! Repeat the process until you get five successful repetitions in a row, where your dog does not go for the bait treat as it’s dropped on the floor.

Level 6.5: If this level is too hard, drop the treat from knee level to start and gradually work your way up to dropping it from your waist level. 

CAUTION: When teaching a “leave it”, NEVER use the bait treat to reward them. You want them to think this item is off limits and they NEVER get what you tell them to leave. This is why we use a different treat as a bait treat – so that they can differentiate.