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Teaching the Dog to "Leave It"

The Leave It command will help your dog ignore distractions that could get him into trouble. When he's not paying attention to you, he could miss your directions or commands, or could react inappropriately. He could also get into trouble by dashing into the street to chase a cat (running cats are big distractions!) or he could eat something that could hurt him (such as chicken bones or a poisoned rat). On a walk, he could react to the dog behind the fence, lunging and growling. The world is full of distractions—which is why they're called distractions!

  1. Begin this trick with your dog on leash and a good-sized treat (such as a large dog biscuit) in hand.
  2. Dog Talk

    Leave It means ignore whatever it is you're paying attention to as I say it.

  3. Have your dog Sit in the Heel position. Hold the leash short and close to your dog but not tight. (Don't choke him!)
  4. Show him the dog biscuit; even let him smell it.
  5. Then tell him, “Fido, Leave It!” and drop the biscuit to the ground right in front of his front paws.
  6. If he tries to grab it, use the leash to stop him and tell him, “No! Leave It!”
  7. As he sits still, even if you're making him sit still, praise him, “Good boy to Leave It! Awesome!”
  8. After a few seconds, put your hands on him, release him, and turn him away from the treat as you praise him, “Good boy!” (If you praise him with the treat at his paws, he's apt to reach down and grab it.)
  9. After you turn him away and praise him, reach down and pick up the treat.
  10. Repeat for a total of five repetitions and then take a break.

Practice these training steps until your dog is no longer trying to lunge for the biscuit and will hold the Sit nicely until you release him.

Bet You Didn't Know

The strongest distraction for a dog is food, especially foods that people might drop. We start training this trick with a dog biscuit because then if the dog does get it, it will not cause him harm—as, for example, a chocolate bar dropped by a child might. If the dog is very food motivated, the owner can begin this training with a toy.

  • Have your dog Sit in the Heel position and hold a biscuit in your right hand.
  • Tell your dog, “Fido, Stay,” then, “Fido, Leave It” as you drop the biscuit to the ground in front of him.
  • Take one step away while allowing the leash to hang loosely between your dog and your hand.
  • Bet You Didn't Know

    If, when you give your dog some slack in his leash, he begins lunging at the treat, use your voice and the leash to stop him, “No! Leave It!” Do not allow him to take advantage of the slack leash.

  • Wait a few seconds, then step back to your dog and praise him for Staying. Turn him away from the biscuit, praise him again, and reach back and pick up the biscuit.
  • Repeat for a total of five repetitions and take a break.
  • Practice these training steps for several days or even a couple of weeks. When your dog is holding his Sit Stay easily, with few mistakes, even with the treat on the ground in front of his paws, you can continue.

    Now you want to teach your dog that Leave It applies to other things, not just a large dog biscuit. So go back to step 1 and repeat the training using other items as the distraction, including …

    • Half a peanut butter sandwich.
    • A plate with a piece of leftover chicken on it.
    • A chunk of cheese.
    • Some appealing kids' toys.

    When your dog will Sit and Stay with any distraction you place in front of him, you're ready to move on to the more difficult training.

    Heel and Leave It

    The Leave It command can be difficult for many dogs. But this exercise is relatively easy when the dog is Sitting and Staying; after all, the Sit and Stay is a control position. When learning the Sit and Stay, the dog learns he must control his impulses to move. However, ignoring distractions while walking is tough.

    Before beginning this training, go back to and review the Watch Me command.

    1. To practice this, have your dog on a leash, and have some really good treats for a Watch Me. You will also need a dog bowl full of dog food or dog biscuits. Place the bowl on the ground.
    2. Have your dog Sit in the Heel position ten to fifteen feet away from the bowl, facing it.
    3. Tell your dog, “Fido, Watch Me! Heel” and walk toward the bowl. Concentrate on having your dog pay attention to you.
    4. Troubleshooting

      If your dog lunges toward the bowl, make an abrupt turn away from it (a right angle turn or an about turn) and take your dog with you. Have him Sit with his back to the bowl and ask him to Watch you. When he does, praise him.

      Bet You Didn't Know

      You can substitute other things as distractions, too. Ask some kids to play some active games where you're training your dog. Use your imagination.

    5. As you approach the bowl, if your dog looks at it or sniffs toward it, tell him, “Leave It!” and repeat your Watch Me command. Use your training treat to help him pay attention to you.
    6. If he looks back to you when he hears the Watch Me command, praise him, “Yeah! Good boy!”
    7. After you pass the bowl, stop and praise him and pop the treat in his mouth.
    8. Repeat for a total of five repetitions and take a break.
    9. Repeat these training steps for several training sessions. When your dog can ignore the bowl, move on to the next training steps.

    10. Begin with your dog in a Sit in the Heel position, facing the bowl of treats about fifteen feet away.
    11. Tell your dog, “Fido, Watch Me, Heel,” and walk forward.
    12. When you approach the bowl, tell your dog to Leave It if he looks or sniffs toward it. If he's focused on you and is ignoring the bowl, praise him enthusiastically!
    13. Instead of walking past the bowl, this time turn and circle it. Walk around the bowl in a clockwise direction so your dog is on the outside of the circle. (You are between your dog and the bowl.)
    14. After two circles, walk away a few steps, stop, Sit your dog, and praise him.
    15. Repeat for a total of five repetitions and take a break.

    Practice these training steps for two or three training sessions, and then change the direction of your circles so that your dog is walking on the inside of the circle, closest to the bowl. Watch for any lunges, but also readily praise good behavior.

    More on: Pets

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    Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Dog Tricks 2005 by Liz Palika. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

    To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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