How to Teach Your Dog the Leave It Command

Dogs are classified as opportunistic scavengers, which means that they are preprogrammed to grab and eat almost anything vaguely edible that they encounter. The terminal Leave It Command is for your dog to refrain from touching food or other items when you say Leave it.

Leave It Command: Step I

With your dog at liberty (not on a Stay), sit on the floor and place a treat in front of you. Be ready to cover it with your hand (don’t let her “rob” one).

  • As soon as your dog notices and goes for the treat, quickly cover it with your hand.
  • Keep your hand on the treat until your dog gives up trying to get it.
  • As soon as she stops trying, praise her (So good), pick up the treat, and give it to her from your hand. Then do another repetition.

Leave It: Step II

teaching leave it

As you go to place the treat on the ground, be ready to abort the mission and pull it up if your dog goes for it. The rule now is that she mustn’t go for it at all, even as you’re putting it down.

  • If she refrains as you place it on the floor and waits one second, praise, pick up the treat, and give it to her. 
  • Now make your dog wait two seconds before picking up the treat and giving it to her
  • Once she’s five for five, try for three seconds.
  • Never let her take the treat off the floor—always reward her from your hand.

Leave It: Step III

dog training

Now stand up and place a treat on the floor right in front of your foot. Be ready to put your foot on it if your dog tries to get it.

  • If she tries for it, put your foot on it and wait until she stops trying, then remove your foot again, always ready to cover as needed.
  • As soon as she stops trying to get at the treat, praise her (“So good”), pick up the treat, and give it to her.
  • Practice in another room and with another kind of treat. When your dog’s five for five, make her leave it for three seconds, then five.
Leave It Step IV

cute puppy

  1. Sequester your dog in another room so you can plant treats without her seeing you do it.
  2. Put five treats in different places, to practice coming upon something with your dog.
  3. Get your dog, put her on a leash for insurance, and casually go walking toward the first treat. You are now going to introduce the verbal cue.
  4. As soon as your dog notices the goodies, say “Leave It” and get ready to stand on it (use your leash as a last resort only—it’s better to make the treat disappear if she guns for it, as this will better translate into off-leash control).
  5. If your dog goes for it, say “Too bad” and stand on it—withdraw a few paces and try another approach.
  6. If she leaves it for two seconds, praise her (So good), pick up the treat, and give it to her—then proceed to the next one, keeping track of how many of five she gets right the first time.