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Teaching your dog to “Leave it”.

Teaching a dog to keep away from a resource or to leave it alone is a skill that I believe every dog should have as part of her repertoire. Let’s not kid ourselves here, at some point our dogs are going to get a hold of something we rather they not. Whether it be your slippers, smaller items that can pose as choking hazards, or a two week old decomposing animal they discovered somewhere along a trail, if your dog can remove herself from the object when you give her the cue it will save you much frustration and anxiety and in some cases likely save her life.

Here’s how to start…

1. Decide on your word of choice. It can be “off”, “leave it”, or any other word that will come to mean “remove yourself from that, now”. You can get creative with cues by the way since dogs don’t understand English and will come to recognize the meaning of the word in any language, so you can teach it in Klingon if your so inclined.

2. With a treat in your hand, make a fist and place the hand in front of your dog making sure they know there is a treat in there. It helps if it’s something with a good and strong scent. At first the dog may try to get to it in a few different ways including licking and pawing. That’s normal.

3. After a few attempts at getting to the treat and the frustration of failing, your dog will back down. She’ll do this by either sitting, laying down, or walking away. The second she does so and stops trying to get at the treat open your hand and give her the treat. I usually say “yes” as a marker to indicate the behavior that earned her the treat.

4. Repeat this numerous times until she begins to back down faster at the sign of the coming treat.

5. Once she is backing down regularly begin to throw in your cue by first (a) giving the cue, (b) placing the treat again in front of her, (c) waiting until she backs down, and (d) giving treat.

And that’s it. Of course, you can progress to the point where you’re placing the treat directly on the floor in front of her. You can also move on to other objects of interest to her, such as a favorite toy or even her food bowl. Practice makes perfect. Keep at it.

Here’s a short video of how this exercise may look during the first few seconds of trying it. Notice how my dog Lulu tries to get at the treat and quickly backs down. Also notice that on my last attempt I have my hand open with the treat securely held which in turn makes her try harder at getting to it. The second she backs down, I deliver the goods.



This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. I love your site! I have an 18-month-old Cocker Spaniel and seem to spend my life yelling ‘Leave it!’ to no avail. Going to try this technique and see if that makes a difference:)

  2. Armando,
    I’m interested how to translate this into other objects the dog already has possession of. My unruly Poodle likes to grab things in an attempt to make us chase her around the house.
    She is great at ‘leave it’ like in the video, but in when she wants to be chased, leave it will not work. I’m worried she will choke on something. I’ve tried yelling, cornering her, and tempting her with treats, but I don’t want to have to punish her, or ‘reward’ her either.

    1. Hey Emma!
      So it sounds as if your Poodle has made a game of it and she’s taught you how to play it whenever she wants. She’s built up an association between the item, your reaction to it, and what follows after. Meaning, she grabs item, you give chase, she has a great time.

      The first thing I suggest is, Do Not Chase. This is what she wants and what she has come to expect. Be consistent in this. If you refuse to chase for a week and then one day you accidently chase her, she will simply continue to play the game in the hopes that you will eventually play along.

      Some management is called for here. If you’re concerned that she may choke on something then you may want to begin removing any risky type items from areas where she’ll have access to them. Think of it as baby proofing the house. You’re wise to not want to corner her or punish her. That approach may backfire, and it’s just plain cruel.

      You’re on the right track when you try to tempt her with treats. Although it sounds as if you’re frustrated and you may be feeling it doesn’t work continue to stick with it. Sometimes all a technique or approach needs is a few tweaks and modifications to make it work for you.

      Have something available that she truly loves. This could be a toy or a high value food (chicken, liver, hot dogs, etc.) that you only dish out during times like these. Work on getting her to readily exchange the item you want her to leave with the good stuff you’re offering. What you have for her should always be far better than what she’s holding onto. You may even want to work on her letting go of items with this high value food before you have a situation where she wants you to chase her. In this manner, when she does play the game you have already created a positive association with letting go of the item.

      When you do this be mindful not to rush her, crowd over her, yell, or chase her. It should be a simple, matter-of-fact exchange.

      With time and some effort you can make this work. Good luck.

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