For Heaven’s Sakes! Just LEAVE IT!

We all know the panic feeling when we drop a pill on the floor next to our dog. I think one of the craziest times I had to use the “leave it” cue was when Boy and I visited my parents in Iowa. We were in their basement when Boy found some tasty peanut butter on a mouse trap.  Thank goodness we have a solid “leave it!” cue!

This cue will progress to the point where you can throw hotdogs at your dog’s face, and he will leave them alone. How can the dog have such amazing control? You have taught the dog if he leaves it as you have cued, he will get something even better. For example, if I asked you to leave a $50 bill you would say, “No way, Miss Michelle.” But if I said, “If you drop that $50 bill, I’ll give you a $100 bill,” then you would leave it!

You never know when you will need to use the “leave it!” cue. When I first moved back to North Carolina in 2009, I was taking my three dogs for a walk. I knew that Morgan had picked up something in her mouth, but honestly, I wasn’t sure what it was. I cued “leave it,” and to my disbelief, Morgan proceeded to spit an entire six-inch Subway® sandwich out of her mouth and then proudly looked at me. To this day, I am still amazed that Morgan listened to me because the sandwich was such a high value item to her. Training pays off. You never know what your dog might find, might get into, or what strangers may offer him. Teaching “leave it!” is a safety cue in addition to helping with impulse control and focus. It’s a great tool to have when walking on leash.

How to Teach “Leave it!”: 

When using the cue “leave it!” you will need to treat with equal level treats or ask your dog to leave a lower level treat and reward with a higher level treat. A higher level treat for my dogs would be a hot- dog, and a lower level treat would be a piece of their dog food. Every dog will vary in preference just like humans. Some of us would enjoy chicken over steak, for example. The point is that you are asking your dog to leave the $50 and giving a $100.

Never release your dog to go get the treat or item you just told him to leave. Be consistent. 

The “leave it!” cue is always cued first (unlike other taught behaviors and cues). The reason for this is your dog will know that if you don’t want him to get or touch something, you always say “leave it!”

But if you were to throw a ball or a treat and the dog didn’t hear the “leave it!” cue, he is free to go for it!

Steps for teaching “leave it!”: 

1. Show your dog the treat. Cue “leave it!” Place the treat under your shoe. Your dog can dig at the shoe, stare at the shoe, but what you will be watching for is him looking up at you, looking away, or hopefully backing away. If the dog does any of these behaviors, click and treat. Repeat the game. You will not move on to the next step until he is consistently and quickly looking away, looking at you or backing up when you cue “leave it!”

2. This time, place a treat beside your shoe, but be ready to cover the treat quickly with your shoe if he goes for it. You will be watching for him to look up at you, look away, or hopefully back away. When he does any of these actions, click and treat. Repeat the game. You will not move onto the next step until he is consistently and quickly looking away, looking at you or backing up when you cue “leave it!”

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Boy looked at Michelle, so she clicked (marked) and rewarded.

3. Start dropping the treat from a higher level.

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Note: If you have a petite breed or a dog with less vigor, then using your hand rather than your shoe to cover up the treat is totally acceptable. I have included pictures below demonstrating using a fist/hand for the first process of teaching “leave it!” In the past five years I have started using my shoe because my hand had been “dug at” with paws way too many times.

Make a fist and push against ground. In this picture Boy looked away after hearing the “leave it!” cue, so I clicked and rewarded him.

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The next step is to leave the treat uncovered.

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On the remaining steps, you will not proceed until your dog is consistent and quick to respond. Again what you will be watching for is for him looking away, looking at you, or backing away.

4. Start by dropping several treats from one inch off the ground.

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5.Drop one treat from a higher distance.

6.Drop several treats from a higher distance.

7.Start by throwing one treat beside the dog. (Be sure you can cover it up if he goes for the

8.Throw one treat toward the dog.

9.Throw one treat beside the dog.

10.Throw several treats beside the dog.

11.Throw one treat toward the dog.

12.Throw several treats toward the dog.

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13.Place a treat on the dog’s paw while working toward placing several.

14.Start generalizing your position. If you were sitting, stand now and start at the beginning

15.Take this actively to new locations, but be sure to start at the beginning steps and work up.

16.Now start working on the cue leave it! Cue with neutral objects. (Remember, neutral objects
have no emotional response from your dog such as a pencil.)

17.Now use the cue leave it! with more desired objects. After your dog is doing well in a formal session, you can cue “leave it!” with objects that you plant for him to find in the house or yard. Be sure to reward with equal or higher value. For example: when I ask my dog to leave the Loofa® stuffed dog. I will reward with his tennis ball and a game of fetch.

18.Start using “leave it! with people that the dog knows. Allow your dog to go up to this person and cue “leave it!”

Take the time to work on “leave it!” now before you find yourself in a situation that you regret. You can apply this cue to not only food items, but other dogs, random things you find on walks, other people and more.


Blog written by Michelle Huntting

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