"Leave It" the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
When considering the importance of the commands that we teach our beloved dogs, "leave it" is second only to recall. Thankfully, I have some wonderful news for you! Teaching a strong and reliable "leave it" is a piece of cake! In other words, you can have your cake and eat it too... because Spot will listen when you tell him to "leave it". I know, terrible joke, but it really is that easy! Let's dive in.
Our dogs learn by direct association so it's important that we take training one step at a time when approaching such a dynamic command. We want our dogs to be happy and successful when we train. It's for this reason that we start teaching this command with pure simplicity. The beauty of "leave it" is that while teaching it we are going to let our dogs come to the correct solution on their own. They are going to do all of the work for us!
Step one: Approach your dog holding two treats, one in each hand. Place one hand behind your back. DO NOT MOVE THIS HAND. If we move it at all it could distract our dog and then instead of rewarding them for the correct behavior they will see it as a bribe. While bribing our dogs may get them to display the correct behaviors, they will only do so when we have something to bribe them with. We want our dogs to be excited to work all of the time. If we teach the "leave it" command with a bribe it will dramatically limit the use of our "leave it". So, make sure that hand is quite and doesn't move.
Step two: While your reward hand is tucked securely behind your back place the other hand directly under your dog's nose. It's important that we do this with that hand open so our dog can see the treat. Then, immediately close the hand while giving your "leave it" command. Make sure we do this in a nice and inviting voice. We don't want our dogs to be scared or intimidated by training. We want them to work for us out of excitement and enjoyment, not because we intimidate them.
Step three: This step is deceptively hard. Don't move your closed "lure" hand. No matter what your dog does to try to get the treat out of that hand, don't move it. Just patiently wait. The moment your dog moves away from the lure hand at all mark it with "BEEP" (or your clicker) and use the hand behind your back to deliver the reward. We never want to reward our dogs with the treat we told them to leave. When starting out, we want to mark even the slightest movement away from our hand. Dogs are very smart and should pick up how this game is working VERY fast.
Step four: Once your dog is quickly moving away from the treat when you tell them to "leave it" it is time to move to the next level. Next, drop the treat on the ground while giving the "leave it" command and then quickly cover the treat with your foot. It's important that your dog never gets the treat that you are telling them to leave because it would be a reward for bad behavior. With this being the case, make sure that they CAN'T get to it. While you are starting you may need to have your dog on a leash to keep them away from the treat. It's never ideal to hold a dog back with their leash because we want them to learn to NEVER have a tight leash, but if you need to for this exercise it's okay to make an exception.
Once your dog is moving quickly away from the treat on the floor, you can begin to teach them to leave other high-reward items. These can be individualized to your dog. If you have a dog that really likes shoes, use shoes. If you have a dog that is possessive over bones, use their favorite bone. We can apply this command to anything. The more times we enforce it with an instant reward in a controlled environment the better. If following these tips you will have a dog who follow the "leave it" command with no issues!
As always, thank you for reading and feel free to share!
DISCLAIMER: All of this information is opinion, and not proven fact. It is encouraged that you do further research and decide which training techniques you would like to use in your own household. Pawsitive Speak Dog Training and MacKenzie Ryle cannot be held liable for any damages associated with use of the advise on this blog.