Teaching your dog the ‘leave it’ command is a crucial behaviour to master. If you drop something potentially dangerous on the floor, or your dog spots something tasty on a walk, they need to know it’s not theirs to have.
I’ll always remember something my old dog trainer said – how devastated would you be if you dropped paracetamol on the floor and had to rush your dog to the vets because you couldn’t get there first…
I shudder at the thought!
This is one of the first things we taught Loki as a puppy. She had (and still has to a degree) a classic case of ‘if it’s in reaching distance, it’s mine.’
I’d say we’re 85% successful with leave it in ordinary circumstances. While in training sessions she’s 100% successful. But there will occasionally be a rogue sock or a pair of my knickers that are just too tempting to resist! On a couple of occasions we’ve found her tottering off to the back of the garden to be alone with her ‘prize.’
But that’s enough about Loki’s shenanigans.
As with any obedience training, persistence and consistency is key.
A quick note: I’m not a professional dog trainer or anything of the sort. These are simply training techniques I’ve learnt from a qualified trainer and perfected with Loki.
7 steps to mastering ‘leave it’
- Start with two handfuls of treats. Have one lot as a standard dog biscuit, and the other as something they go crazy for – your secret weapon. Something really smelly such as fish, chicken or cheese usually does the trick.
- Ensure your dog’s attention is on you and place the boring dog biscuit on the floor. Cover it over with your hand. At this point pup is likely to nose and paw at your hand to try and get the treat. Do not say or do anything at this point.
- Get your smelly treat ready. As soon as they do something other than trying to get to the treat, reward them with your secret weapon. This good behaviour can be miniscule, so make sure you’re prepared. It can be as small as your dog looking away briefly or taking a small step back. As soon as they do, say ‘leave it’, reward and give lots of praise.
- Repeat this process until your pooch no longer paws at your hand with the boring treat. Be sure to reward every time they stay put.
- Now take your hand away from the boring treat. Reward and praise if they don’t go for it. If pup does try and snatch it, simply place your hand back over the treat. When they stop pawing you, remove your hand again. As soon as they hesitate instead of lunging at the biscuit, say the command immediately and reward.
- Slowly increase the difficulty. When they understand that leaving the biscuit gets them a super deluxe treat, start leaving the biscuit uncovered for longer each time. Start with two seconds, then three, then five.
- As we want to replicate normal situations, challenge your dog with different delivery exercises.
For example, drop the treat from a height, throw the treat in front of your dog, or place the treat on its nose. Continue the training in different locations, in your home, in the garden or at the park where there are distractions.
When they’re reliably listening to your command, start using higher value treats in place of the boring biscuit.
You’ll unlikely be able to master this training in one go, especially if you’re working with a puppy. They have extremely short attention spans and tire very quickly.
You should aim to keep training sessions short but frequent. Around three, five minute sessions a day is plenty.
And always end on a high. If you see signs your dog is losing focus it’s time to stop and try again later. I’ve found with Loki, if we go on too long and she starts wandering off, she can become altogether frustrated with that particular training and switch off to it completely.
Not a good situation to be in.
Even when you think you’ve mastered ‘leave it’, you should continue training months even years down the line. Reinforcing the behaviour not only ensures they remember the command, training of any kind will strengthen your bond and alleviate pent up energy.
What’s that saying… ‘A tired dog is a good dog.’
Feel free to share your questions and training stories in the comments. Has your pooch mastered leave it yet?