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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?
Fan photos: Active Mutts!


Sunday 6th of November 2016

We have always used leave it with our 6 month lab and she understands it. We sometimes use it to leave other dogs but another dog owner today got really offended and thought we were callings his dog 'it' ! I feel really annoyed and a little upset. Should I still use the leave it command or change it so it doesn't offend people

Sandy Weinstein

Thursday 7th of July 2016

i have tried the watch me and leave it, but my girls do better when i say uh, uh...or no or i just raise my finger pointing at them. we have worked on both....however, when food is involved with the middle child, she will not look at me for any reason, she is a real foodie. her daddy was that way. food, food.... i also use the drop it. i work with their treats and other objects, such as toys. the 2 younger girls will try and take treats and food from my older gal, i tell them drop it, sometimes they will, but not always...they listen better when i say uh uh...we are working on these. i have tried the watch me, the youngest child will look at me and listen but not the middle child when food is around.

Nancy Pumphrey/ Ridgeback Momma

Thursday 7th of July 2016

I practice leave it with high value treats. I can drop them in front of Shaka and Bella and they wait until given my release "break time". I also use leave it for any number of things but also at the dog park. If I don't like the attitude I see in another dog I will ask mine to "leave it" and they return to my side. I have found it to be very effective. When several dogs are getting excited at the park, I can call leave it and both my dogs will turn away and return to me. We also practice "watch me". There are times when you need their undivided attention. I have 2 Rhodesian Ridgebacks. The male is 100 lbs and female is 70 lbs. They need to listen. Although they are good with small dogs, not everyone at the park is happy about my big goofs approaching their 15 lb baby. I can ask either of them to leave it and they do. On leash I use leave it so they don't go after strange food wrapper or anything yucky. I've never used this in an "on leash" situation regarding another dog. I just say "follow me" and both dogs generally walk past bad canine actors without too much concern.


Tuesday 30th of June 2015

We have a 15 month old pitbull mix. When walking him he pulls alot even when I give him 6ft leash. He will not take treats from me at all, I have tried everything including string cheese. He's a good dog know other commands just the dog walking is the issue. We got him so I had someone to walk with, we live in Philadelphia and hes a beautiful dog. He is strong weighs approx 95 lbs. so I need to be able to control him. Any suggestions.

Nancy Pumphrey/ Ridgeback Momma

Thursday 7th of July 2016

Hi Denise, Gentle Leader makes a head harness and also an Easy Walk body harness. Both are very helpful. ( You use one or the other) We had our son's 130 lb mastiff pit mix for 18 months. Short pit legs and mastiff body. Low center of gravity made her pulling difficult. Both of these products made our walks fun and safe.

Jacklyne Tesoro

Tuesday 28th of April 2015

Great advice! I will start implementing this with my own dog and tell the owner's of the dogs that I walk as well.