Someone recently asked me how to stop their dog from chasing the neighbor’s chickens who like to escape their fence and come into her yard. My response was two-fold: have a talk with your neighbor to fix the fence and teach your dog how to “leave it.” I think she wanted a quick fix which you will not get from “leave it.” It takes practice, practice, practice but the results are well worth it.

Does your dog dive to grab something that drops on the floor? Like to eat tasty morsels off of the ground during walks?  Chase the cat?!  All of these issues and more can be stopped by using ”leave it.”

“Leave it” must be distinguished from “drop it” which is used for when the dog already has something in his mouth. “Leave it” tells the dog not to pick up the object. I’ll address “drop it” in a future post.

Teaching “leave it” is pretty simple but getting the dog to respond to the cue can be very challenging, especially if the dog really, really wants the object (like the chickens!). It’s best to begin teaching your dog to “leave it” with something that is not extremely enticing. I use a small cube of cheese or a treat. While holding your dog, drop the cheese or treat just out of your dog’s reach and say the cue, “leave it!” Immediately praise your dog as you hold your dog back from getting the treat. Your dog’s reward for not going for the treat is your praise, so you must make sure you are very exuberant. And do not give your dog the treat.  (Be sure you are not jerking your dog by the leash or the collar. Many old-school dog trainers still train this way.)  Most dogs will struggle to try to get the treat. Continue practicing and you know you are making progress when your dog is not struggling as much. Within a few minutes of practicing, most dogs will stop struggling and look up to you for the praise.  This is the breakthrough moment that you know your dog is learning the cue!

Gradually move the treat closer and closer to your dog as you say “leave it” and praise when your dog does not go for the treat. Work up to being able to place the treat directly in front of your dog, say “leave it” and your dog won’t try to get it. And you can impress your friends if you practice enough to be able to place the treat on your dog’s paw, tell him to “leave it” wait several seconds or longer, and then give him the “okay!” cue that says he can now take the treat. Very cool!

As your dog responds consistently to your “leave it” cue, you can practice using even more desirable treats or objects.

Some trainers like to use their foot to cover the treat when the dog tries to go for it, simultaneously saying “leave it.” This strategy works well but must be phased out or else you will find yourself out for a walk and if your dog tries to dive for the deer poop, you really don’t want to have to cover that with your foot!

The uses for “leave It” are as many and creative as you are. I like to advise people to tell dogs who are counter surfers to “leave it” or if your dog is tempted to steal food or other objects off of tables. People with small children can tell their dogs not to touch the children’s toys or other items. At least once a week, I drop one of my supplements on the floor and get to practice “leave it” with my dog! Practice, practice!

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