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Do You Use ‘Leave It’ to Get Your Dog to Ignore Other Dogs?

I see this a lot:

Someone’s dog is reacting aggressively on a leash towards another dog, and the owner scolds, “leave it!”

Or sometimes, it’s “leave-it-leave it-leave-it-leave it-leave-it” as they quickly move away.

You’ve seen this, right? Or maybe you’ve done so yourself?

Both variations never seem to actually stop the dog’s excited behavior because in most cases the dog hasn’t actually been taught that “leave it” means “ignore that other dog.”

If the dog has been taught that “leave it” means do not touch the food/ball/dead bird/etc., it’s too much of a stretch for the dog to transfer that concept to mean do not touch the moving dog.

Tell me if I’m wrong.

Plus, most dogs have never even been taught that “leave it” means anything at all. It’s just a phrase their owners latch onto when their dogs get excited on a leash.

For some dogs, I’m sure “leave it” actually means “look for the dog.” It actually gets them more riled up!

Of course, I can relate. I’ve walked plenty of reactive or excited dogs, and it can be very frustrating and embarrassing. You feel helpless sometimes, and saying “leave it” at least acknowledges to other dog owners that you’re trying.

Also, I’m not saying you can’t use “leave it” to mean “ignore other dogs.” It’s just that dogs need to be taught what we mean by this.

If any of you have successfully taught your dog that “leave it” means “ignore other dogs,” let me know what you did in the comments. This would be very helpful info for myself and others.

So what should dog owners do instead?

Hopefully some of you will chime in with what works for your own dogs.

Here’s what I usually suggest:

1. Teach your dog “watch me.”

I’ve spent years as a professional dog walker and rescue/shelter volunteer, and I recommend teaching “watch me” or “watch” to encourage your dog to look at you, making eye contact. You’ll have to use highly valued treats at first, and you’ll have to work without distractions while your dog builds his skills.

And yes, of course you could teach your dog that “leave it” means “look at me.” It’s just confusing when we use the same phrase to mean don’t touch the food/dead bird/toy. They’re two different concepts.

It’s like when people use “down!” to mean “stop jumping” and “lie down” depending on the situation. It’s confusing.

2. Teach your dog to heel.

I also recommend teaching your dog a traditional “heel.” Meaning, he walks nicely at your side.

This takes many months (OK, years) to perfect, and we can’t expect our dogs to heel all the time but it’s a valuable concept to teach.

I’ve written many posts on loose-leash walking and heel. I’ll link to them below.

Some of the main tips I recommend include:

  • finding the right training collar
  • enrolling in an obedience class so your dog can practice with distractions
  • using highly valued treats like pieces of real chicken
  • walking at different speeds, zig-zags, figure 8s, etc.

Helpful posts:

OK, enough rambling from me. I’m mostly curious what your take is on all this. Perhaps most people will disagree with me, and that’s fine too. I guess I’ll find out!

Do you use ‘leave it’ to get your dog to ignore other dogs?

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Does Your Dog Really Know the Leave It Command?
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