It’s always a good idea to refresh our dogs’ training and commands every so often.
With that in mind, I’m going back to an old post of Lindsay’s and revisiting how to teach your dog leave it. In the comments, let us know if there are any other commands you’d like us to re-visit in future posts.
Lindsay defined “leave it” as “do not touch that object.” As in don’t sniff, don’t eat, don’t touch that thing right in front of you. This is different than using “leave it” to mean “leave that other dog alone,” and especially different from “ignore that other dog on the other side of the street.”
In Lindsay’s original post, she went through the steps of teaching “leave it” using high value and lower value treats. I’ve mentioned before that our trainer does not use treats in her training, so our approach to teaching “leave it” was a bit different.
How to teach your dog leave it—what we did
We started with a low value item—a piece of bread—on the ground. We did not give the “leave it” command until our dog moved towards the bread. At the same time as we said the command, we placed our hand over the bread to block our dog.
We used a fairly assertive motion to get the dog’s attention and be clear about our expectations. Successful “leave its” were rewarded with praise and petting.
Unfortunately for Baxter, I misinterpreted his action. He was just coming to say hi to me. He wasn’t interested in the bread. In my attempt to successfully execute the “leave it,” I karate chopped him right on the nose. I apologized—and recognized his excellent “leave it”—with enthusiastic scratches and petting, but for the rest of the lesson, Baxter stayed as far away from the bread as possible.
Two notes about blocking your dog from the treat:
- Be careful about blocking if your dog isn’t actually going for the treat. You don’t want to penalize your dog for good behaviour.
- Be careful about blocking if you have a very food motivated dog. You don’t want to be bit accidentally.
Lindsay’s post details the steps of teaching “leave it” in good detail, so I’m not going to restate them here. However, I want to emphasize one important consideration. When teaching “leave it” it’s usually best to not reward your dog with the original item.
Think about it. You put a piece of super tasty cheese on the ground, tell your dog “leave it” and he executes it perfectly. Then as a reward, you pick up the cheese and give it to him.
Now translate that to the real world.
On your walk, your dog finds a tasty piece of cheese. You tell him leave it and begin to walk on. The dog knows that usually after leave it, he gets the item as a reward. He refuses to walk, waiting for his cheesy goodness. This mixed message can be very confusing for dogs.
The final consideration I want to discuss while we’re thinking about “leave it” is going beyond this command to teach “take it.”
For another trainer I follow “leave it” is assumed for all situations. This means if a bottle of pills falls and spills all over the floor, her dogs know without being told that the pills are forbidden. Likewise, a snack sitting on the coffee table, litter on the sidewalk, animal poop in the backyard or sloppy cutlery in the open dishwasher. They’re all out of bounds, unless the dog is told that he can “take it.”
Admittedly, “take it” may require more training and a very strong foundation of “leave it” is still beneficial.
Whether you teach “leave it” or “take it,” these are both important commands to protect your dog from dangerous hazards and make life together more pleasant.
What are your tips for teaching leave it? What’s your dog’s hardest object to leave?
Do you work on refreshing commands with your dog?
Are there any commands you’d like us to explore in future posts?
Julia Thomson is a blogger at Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating. She and her family live on a 129-acre farm in Ontario, Canada.