Like the recall, leave it is an important cue that teaches your dog impulse control. Leave it is a safety cue that you should teach your dog or puppy as soon as he gets home.
You might be wondering, what does ‘it’ mean in this cue? ‘It’ refers to things like another dog, something that he picks up on the sidewalk, a child, food that has fallen on the ground, and so on.
Why should you teach your dog to leave it? From this cue, your dog learns to take his nose away from something but keep it in his mouth. If you are trying to get your dog to release something from his mouth, you ought to teach him the ‘drop it’ cue.
Teaching Your Dog to Leave It
To teach your dog to leave it, you need to move the training gradually in these stages:
Hold your dog’s favorite food in your hand (should be high-value treat like chicken). Make sure that you leave a little piece of the food sticking up, to ensure that your dog cannot easily take it out of your hand.
Extend your hand towards the dog’s nose and let him figure out how he is going to get the food out of your hand.
The dog will probably try nibbling, pawing at the treat, or smelling it. Whatever he does, do not let him have the food until he hesitates by turning his head away or stopping and moving his nose away.
When he hesitates, mark this behavior by praising him and let him have the food in your hand.
Repeat this exercise until your dog reliably volunteers to move his nose back.
When he begins to move his nose away from the food reliably, add the cue ‘leave it’ to the exercise. This will teach him to associate the cue with the action.
Ensure that you reward the dog every time he moves his nose back after the cue is given.
Repeat this process a couple of times, then ask him to ‘leave it’ as soon as you extend the food to him. Reward him every time he complies.
After your dog has learned to associate the cue with the action, make the training harder for him.
Put the food on an open palm so that your dog can see and smell it.
Hold another food reward in your other hand and hide it behind your back.
Show the dog the food on the open palm and give the ‘leave it’ cue. This will make it considerably hard for the dog to resist the food as he can see it.
If he tries to eat the treat, cup your hand over it, then place your hand behind for a few seconds while saying, “uh-oh.” This will help you to mark unwanted behavior.
If he does not try to eat the treat, reward him with the treat that’s in your other hand. Do not give him the treat that was on the hand that you asked him to leave. Doing this is important as the reward comes from elsewhere instead of the food that you asked him to leave.
Repeat this process until your dog begins leaving the food reliably.
Make the training harder and repeat the process, but this time place the treat on the floor or table.
If your dog complies, reward him using the treat in your hand instead of the one on the floor or table.
Place a treat on the floor, put your dog on a leash, and walk him past the leash.
Reward the dog every time he responds to the leave it cue. If he takes the treat, do not get it out of his mouth. Instead, go back to the previous stage where the dog complied. Build up the cue from there until he is ready to try walking past the food again.
Repeat the exercise by placing the items that you want your dog to leave alone on the floor. Once your dog is reliably leaving things inside your home, you can take the training outside.
Ready to Drop It?
If your dog responds to the cue in the house but ignores it outside, use a higher value treat to get him to comply. This cue is important as it will help your dog to avoid picking up things such as trash as you walk him. It will also teach him to leave other dogs and people alone.