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Teach Your Dog the Leave It Command

Learn how to teach your dog the leave it command.

The "leave it" command is a great one to teach your dog. It helps you keep your dog safe from eating dangerous or toxic items and also things that may be disgusting or simply off limits.

General Training Tips

Before you start teaching your dog any command, it's good to know some basic things that can make dog training go easier:

  • Train after an exercise session. That can help get out some of your dog's extra energy and help her focus on learning.
  • Train when your dog is hungry. That can help her work harder to get the treats you may offer for training rewards.
  • Use a clicker to help your dog understand what you want faster. Learn more about how that works here: "Clicker Training for Dogs: An Overview."
  • Limit training sessions to ten minutes or less. Sessions that are too long can lead to your dog getting frustrated or losing focus.
  • End the session on a success for your dog, so the overall experience is great.
  • Stay patient and positive—your dog will associate training and that particular command with negativity and won't learn as fast if you don't.
  • Focus on rewarding your dog for the behavior you want instead of punishing for the behavior you don't want. Positive reinforcement works better than negative.

How to Teach a Dog the Leave It Command

To teach a dog the leave it command, start by putting a treat inside your closed hand. Let your dog try to get to the treat, but don't give it up. As soon as your dog stops trying to get the treat, moving back from your hand even a fraction, open your hand, click or give praise, and give the dog the treat.

Gradually, wait longer between when he starts ignoring the treat and when you let your dog have it.

Once your dog reliably waits for you to open your hand and give the treat, start with the treat in your open hand but don't let your dog have it (cover it with the other hand if necessary). Say "leave it," and wait until your dog backs off to click or praise and deliver the treat.

Eventually, your dog should follow the leave it command and wait until you offer the treat to take it.

Then, you'll want to begin working on the floor. Start by placing a treat on the floor and covering it with your hand. Let the dog try to get it, but say "leave it," and when the dog backs off, click and give a treat (not the one from the floor). Keep working on it until your dog won't take the treat from the floor even if you aren't covering it.

The ultimate goal should be that your dog doesn't pick up anything from the floor or ground, even without being given the leave it command, until you direct him to do so. That's because you don't want him grabbing dropped medicine or foods that are toxic from the floor before you're able to notice it and say "leave it."

For that, you may wish to add a "take it" command. Do that by following the steps above, but saying "take it" when it's OK for the dog to eat the treat. That way, your dog will learn not to grab anything without you OK'ing it.

As your dog becomes more advanced, you can put a line of treats or toys on the floor, walk your dog past them, saying "leave it" at each one, and giving a reward which is of higher value to the dog than the ones on the ground.

Keep working on the command, reinforcing it, throughout the dog's life to keep it current in his mind.

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