Leave-it is one of the first things that you should teach your dog because not only does it help teach them the difference between yes and no, but it also helps build eye contact right from the start. If you can manage to get eye contact from your dog, you can direct them so much better. Strong communication between you and your dog starts with eye contact.
This command is also important for many other reasons. It creates the understanding between you and your dog that when you say “leave-it” that they leave that object alone, whether it is a piece of food, a piece of plastic or some other object on the ground during a dog walk, and even to leave a cat or other dog alone.
In the video below, I demonstrate leaving a piece of food alone while I leave the room completely. I actually went into the bathroom and closed the door. My dog understands that it is in her best interest to leave the food alone because she will be praised and rewarded for doing so, rather then scolded. However, keep in mind that I don’t yell at my dog and have never hit my dog.
Create An Understanding
Before starting the training process, make sure that your dog understands the word “Yes!” or the sound of a clicker if that is what you are using. Do this by saying “Yes!” (or clicking) and follow it up by giving your dog a small piece of a high quality food reward. Do this anywhere from 10-20 times so that your dog understands that “Yes!” means a reward is coming. It is also a good idea to lure your dogs eyes into contact with your eyes before giving them the treat.
Whenever we are teaching a dog a new trick or command, we want to do it in an environment without any distractions. Or with as very few distractions as possible. In the video below, I will show you the entire process with a dog that I have never worked with before. Here is 6 month old Zoey learning leave-it, her first command ever.
Outlasting Your Dogs Patience
Patience is the key here. It is important not to get frustrated because your dog will sense this aggravation during training and will not feel as comfortable or enthusiastic.
Do NOT pull your dog away or hold them back in order to prevent them from taking the food. Instead, cover it up with you hand and wait for them to back off. Then give them the okay, “Yes!”, and give them the treat.
Always stop while you are ahead. End on high a note and build upon this gradually; each dog learns at their own pace so don’t feel bad if it is taking them longer than others. Just be consistent, have the training days relatively close together, and make training fun and positive.
Don’t Forget About Eye Contact
Remember to wait for eye contact before rewarding. It is okay if we don’t get eye contact every single time, but for the majority of the time, we do. If you can get eye contact with your dog, you can communicate with them much easier. It’s also a great idea to get them to sustain eye contact with you longer each time before rewarding.
In the beginning, and sometimes randomly throughout training, use the treat to lure your dog into eye contact with you. The more you do this, the better. You may also use the phrase “look at me” or simply say the dog’s name (my preference) when you have eye contact and right before rewarding. Don’t be afraid to make a little sound if needed to help get their eye contact, that is perfectly fine. What is important is that you eventually are able to fade out the lure and get eye contact just by using their name or by saying “look at me.”
Build On This Skill
This command is perfect for setting your dog up for future distractions. If you can consistently manage to get your dog to leave a piece of very tempting food on the floor and look at you instead of eating it, then you have just set a very solid foundation for even more distractions.
This helps dramatically with walking your dog, where there all kinds of distractions. Squirrels, dogs, cats, people, sounds, new scents, litter, just to name a few. I have built such a solid “leave it” with my dog that when I notice she is tempted into going towards a stray cat (they are everywhere here), I tell her “leave it” and she ignores the cat and continues the walk. Sometimes I will reward her by running with her for a a few seconds, or just by praising her in a playful way.
Once your dog has learned how to “leave it”, it is a great idea to work on “stay”. These two commands can work hand in hand and can be used to strengthen one another. They are the foundation to building a very strong communication.
Read my post and watch my “Train Stay” video here: How To Train Stay