"Leave It!” is a fun command to teach because your dog totally won’t get it at first and then he just… will.
When I say that training is a great bonding experience, this is what I mean - when your pup finally gets this, you’ll feel so proud of him. Show it with enthusiasm!
Your pup will be proud of himself too and happy that he can do something that makes you so happy.
You’ll use the “leave it!” command when you want your dog to ignore something tempting… which happens a lot! especially if your dog is still a puppy.
Imagine the following scenarios: you’re on a walk and that one neighborhood dog is yapping his head off at your pup through the fence; your friend’s toddler is over and she’s waving cheese sticks in front of your dog’s face; you’re out on a hike and you come upon a dead bird or (yikes) a live snake on the trail.
Leave it, leave it, leave it!
For your sanity and your dog’s safety, this is a great skill to know.
A successful “leave it” happens when your dog sees something tempting - a toy, food, a disgusting chicken carcass; listens to you as you say “leave it;” and chooses to ignore it and look at you instead.
You’ll say “leave it” before your pup dives for a coveted prize. It’s preventative.
If you come upon him and he's already happily chomping away at a ball of used tissue, the cue is “drop it."
Old school training methods require that you shout “no!” or “bad!” or “uh uh!” if your dog is approaching something you don’t want him to put in his mouth.
This works to intimidate your dog. He might avoid the object out of fear, but he won’t learn the behavior that you’d like him to do instead. Positive reinforcement is way more effective here.
You're going to stay calm and positive and show your dog exactly what you want him to do. You’ll empower him to make his own decisions, not intimate him into avoiding certain actions.
While we’re training, we’re going to stack the game in his favor and make it easy for him to do the right thing. Once he sees the rewards for doing the right thing, he’ll choose it every time.
We'll work our way up to asking our dog to ignore an irresistible prizes, like an unguarded plate of steak. For now, we’ll make it relatively easy.
You’ll want to do this exercise with something your dog likes, like good training treats, pieces of cheese, or chicken.
As usual, we’ll start this exercise inside where there are fewer distractions.
Put a few treats in both of your hands.
Put one hand behind your back. (Hold your clicker in this hand if you’re using one.)
Bring your other hand up to Rico’s nose and let him smell it, making sure the treats are fully covered by your fingers.
Rico will naturally sniff, mouth, and paw your hand, trying to get at the treat. Allow him to do whatever he wants without correcting him, but don’t let him get to the treats.
The second he looks away from your hand, click! or say “yes!” and give him a treat from the hand that’s behind your back.
Repeat this exercise several times, until he is starting to look away from the treat consistently.
Mark it every time with a click! or “yes!” and give him a treat from behind your back.
*Note that we haven’t said “leave it!” yet.
Once he’s getting it, switch hands and practice several more times.
Set up for the exercise again, with treats in both hands and one hand behind your back.
With your free hand, bring the treats to Rico’s nose and then move your hand down to the ground (where temptations usually hang out.)
Wait for Rico to sniff, lick, and paw at your hand. If Rico gets distracted, you can briefly show him the treats in your hand and then re-cover them.
As soon as he looks away, click! or yes! and then give him a treat from behind your back. Good dog!
Set yourself back up and repeat this at least 10 times. Make sure you switch hands and practice that way too.
Only move to the next step when Rico is quickly ignoring the food on the ground.
When Rico is getting it, you’re ready to raise the stakes!
Repeat Step 2, but this time place the treats on the floor and cover them with your hand. If he doesn’t immediately go for them, practice uncovering the treats for 1-2 seconds. If he resists and decides to look away, click! or say “yes!” and give him a treat.
If he goes for the treats, simply cover them back up with your hand. You’ll probably want to go back to step 2 for a few more rounds before you try this again.
Set up for the exercise again, but this time only click! or say "yes!" when Rico looks away from the treat and up at you.
You may have to be patient here.
Once he looks up at you and makes eye contact, mark the behavior and give him lots of praise!
Repeat this step several times.
Now that he’s getting really good, we’re ready to add in the words “Leave it!”
You’ll say the command one time in an upbeat voice after you’ve presented the distraction and before he looks up at you.
He should look up at you as soon as you say “Leave It!”
If he doesn’t, go back a few steps and save the verbal command until the behavior is stronger.
As your dog gets better, continue to make it harder. Practice with really good, uncovered treats, like uncovered bacon or cheese.
Cater the exercise to your dog and practice with specific things that he likes to chew on.
If he likes to chew on socks, practice your “leave its” with socks on the ground. Practice with sticks, plastic water bottles, tissues - anything!
To avoid the behavior chain of sniff-look up-treat, be sure to throw in extra rewards when your dog doesn't sniff your hand at all. If he ignores your hand when you put it out, reward that!
Remember to only say the command once. You don’t want to teach your dog not to listen to you!
If your pup is having a tough time, start with something a little less delicious, like dry kibble
If your pup isn’t interested, practice before a mealtime when he’s hungry and make sure you let him smell the treats first