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How to Teach your Dog to Leave Something Alone.

Teaching “Leave it” from your hand

How many times do you tell your puppy or dog to leave something alone?  Whether you dropped something on the floor, or they want to continue to pick up items such as sticks, leaves, rocks, or anything they see while on a walk or in the backyard.


The leave-it cue is great for calling your dog away from those things not intended for him, in addition to the above items there are also items in the house like appetizers set out on your coffee table or a baby’s toys or diaper, or things that are downright dangerous, like chicken bones in the trash.


So, how do we teach it. To start, place a handful of treats in your hand. When your dog shows interest in your hand, hold it still and say, “Leave it.” If necessary, close your hand to keep your dog from getting the treat, but don’t move your hand away.


As soon as your dog pulls away or loses interest, treat from your other hand. Use a treat as good as or better than the one you asked your dog to leave alone. Use their regular treats in the hand you show them and something yummy like chicken or hotdog in the hand that you treat with. Keep the hand with the treat you give behind your back or your dog will immediately look at that hand when you say leave it from the other hand.


Once your dog has left the treats alone and you don’t have to close your hand when you say “leave it” we can move on to the next distraction.


Place treats on a dining table, coffee table, or counter. Stay within arm’s length so you can cover up the treats if needed. You can place them on a plate to imitate real life.


When your dog shows interest tell him, “Leave it.” If he looks away or hesitates, reward him with a separate treat. If he goes for the food, say, “Ah-ah” (a No Reward Mark) and cover up the food. When he stops trying to get at it, reward.


The reward treat should not come from the pile on the table and should either be the same type of treat or something better.


When you get a 100% success rate with 10 trials (your dog never tries to go for the treats on the table), add distance between yourself and the table. Ask someone to help protect the food if needed or have your dog on a leash to stop him from getting at the food if he tries.             


About this time your dog should be getting pretty good at “Leave it”. So, let’s move on to things on the floor or ground.


Repeat the above exercise, but with the food on the ground. You can also use trash with a food smell or something else you want your dog to be able to leave alone.


Next, put food or trash on the ground and practice leave it while you and your dog walk by. Begin by passing at a good-sized distance and work your way closer and closer to the enticing object as your dog gets better at the exercise.


You can do this with anything you see on the ground. When your dog notices the object, tell him, “Leave it” and reward any response of looking toward you. Just be sure to stay far enough away for your dog to be unable to reach the object.


Training Tip: The sooner you give the cue, the better. If your dog is already intrigued by an object, it is much harder for him to leave it alone. So, when you are out for a walk keep your eyes open for items the dog will want to go for. Your vision is much better than your dogs. When we walk our dog and we see a squirrel or a cat, we will tell him to leave it.


One additional note. Anytime you say “leave it” you must follow up with a treat. By doing this eventually every time you say leave it your dog will look at you.



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