THE EVER USEFUL “LEAVE IT” COMMAND
It is important to teach your dog a command that lets it know that you want it to ignore something that it is interested in. This command not only makes your life easier, it could also save your dog’s life. Believe it or not, “leave it” is fairly easy to teach, provided you have already established a working rapport with your dog. I have taught dogs the “leave it” command, and had them totally leave a variety of things alone to prove to me that they knew what I was talking about, in less than ½ an hour. Here are some tips for teaching this all-important command.
TIP 1: LET YOUR DO KNOW THAT “LEAVE IT” IS A PERMANENT COMMAND
For me, “leave it” is a command that tells your dog to leave something alone period. It is not temporary. Your dog is not waiting for you to release it to have whatever you told it to leave alone (which is something that people often teach their dogs when teaching this command). It has been told to leave something alone, and it does. That’s it.
TIP 2: USE TWO DIFFERENT KINDS OF TREAT TO TEACH “LEAVE IT”
When you are teaching “leave it,” use two different kinds of treats, or other reinforcers. One should be higher value to your dog than the other. Keep the higher value treats in your pocket or treat bag, and use them to reinforce your dog for following the command. Use the lower value treats as the objects that you will have your dog leave alone during training. And remember as per tip 1, your dog will not ever get access to these treats.
TIP 3: FIRST TEACH YOUR DOG TO LEAVE A TREAT IN YOUR HAND ALONE
Have your dog sit next to you, wearing its leash. Have the lower value treat in the hand that is farther from your dog. Hold your dog’s leash near your dog’s face with the hand that is not holding the treat. Hold the hand with the treat in it out, palm up, as if you are offering the treat to your dog. As your dog goes for the treat, say “leave it” and gently bump the dog’s face away from the treat with the hand that’s holding the leash. As soon as it shows that it is willing to leave the treat alone, reinforce it with a higher value treat (Look for the boiled egg in each of the pictures of Emma and me in this article).
TIP 4: SECOND, TEACH YOUR DOG TO LEAVE A TREAT ON THE GROUND ALONE
Next, place the lower value treat on the ground in front of your dog. Be sure that you are still holding onto the leash. Say “leave it” as you put the treat down. Be prepared to bump your dog with your leash hand, if it goes for the treat as you put it down. If your dog waits until you have straightened up before trying to get to the treat, then immediately step in between your dog and the treat, and push your dog back with your body while repeating the command “leave it.” Again, if your dog does leave it alone, reinforce it with the higher value treat.
TIP 5: LASTLY, TEACH YOUR DOG TO LEAVE A TREAT THAT IT IS WALKING TOWARDS ALONE
The next step is to have your dog moving towards something that you want it to leave alone. Leave the treat on the ground, and walk your dog away from it. Then, walk your dog towards it. As soon as your dog acts interested in the treat, say “Leave It,” and immediately turn around. If your dog willingly turns around with you, reinforce it. It your dog attempts to pull toward the treat on the ground, then, the next time you walk towards the treat, you need to say “Leave It,” and turn around when you are farther from the treat than you did previously.
That’s pretty much all there is to it. Of course, you will need to practice it repeatedly. And, once your dog has learned to leave one type of treat alone, you will need to practice with other things that you want it to leave alone; your garbage, your lunch, your cat, etc
If you would like a full description of how to teach the “leave it” command, you can find it in my e-book
How to Have a Well Behaved Dog, which is available here.