How to Teach a Dog to Leave It (5 steps)

As a dog parent and a dog trainer, one of the most important commands I teach dogs is “leave it.” This command teaches impulse control and helps keep your dog safe in many situations.

The leave it command instructs your dog to resist the urge to take something you don’t want them to have. This could be food on the ground, a toy, or another distraction like a squirrel.

Mastering this command takes patience and practice, but it’s an essential life skill for dogs. Here are some examples of when you’d use it:

  • Your dog tries to eat trash off the ground
  • You drop food while cooking and don’t want your dog to eat it
  • Your dog tries grabbing food off the coffee table
  • Your dog is tempted to chase a squirrel, cat, or other animal

Teaching leave it builds your dog’s impulse control. They have to actively resist temptation. It’s a challenging skill, but so valuable.

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“A dog that knows the leave it command makes going out in public and having friends over so much easier and safer.”

So, I will be sharing a step-by-step process that I have found effective for teaching the “leave it” command. Additionally, I will provide some troubleshooting tips. This command builds off basic obedience skills like sit, down, stay, and come, so make sure your dog has those mastered first.

Let’s start!

Step-by-Step Instructions to Teach a Dog to Leave It

Follow these steps to teach your dog the leave it command:

Step 1: Gather Supplies

  • High-value treats like small pieces of chicken or cheese
  • Regular treats your dog enjoys
  • A leash for keeping your dog close at first
  • Toys to practice with

I recommend practicing indoors at first in a low-distraction room.

Step 2: Show the Treat

  1. Hold a treat in your closed fist.
  2. Let your dog sniff it, but don’t give it to them. This builds a desire for the treat.
  3. Say “leave it” firmly as your dog investigates.
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Step 3: Open Your Hand

  1. Keeping the treat in the palm of your hand, open your fingers so the treat is visible.
  2. Cover it quickly with your other hand if your dog tries taking it.
  3. Continue saying “leave it” each time they try.
  4. When they stop trying, praise them and give a high-value treat from your other hand.
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Step 4: Place the Treat on the Floor

  1. Place the treat on the floor and cover it with your hand.
  2. Say “Leave it” and lift your hand for a moment.
  3. When your dog tries for the treat, cover it again.
  4. Repeat until your dog hesitates or looks at you.
  5. When they resist temptation, praise, give a high-value treat and let them take the one from the floor. This teaches the reward comes from you, not the forbidden object!

“Patience is so important in training. Don’t progress too quickly or expect perfection right away.”

Step 5: Increase Distance

  1. Toss a treat on the floor instead of placing it.
  2. Increase distance between dog and treat each time.
  3. If they break the leave-it command, cover the treat again and work closer.
  4. When success is consistent, start using favorite toys and ultimately real-life situations.

Troubleshooting Tips

If your dog struggles:

  • Slow down and work in smaller steps
  • Use higher-value rewards for motivation
  • Practice in areas with less distraction first
  • Keep training sessions short to avoid frustration

If they lunge for treats:

  • Keep them on a leash so you can cover treats easily
  • Work up to tossing treats vs. placing them on the floor

For extra stubborn dogs:

  • Wait until they are very hungry to train
  • Find their absolute favorite treats. American Kennel Club recommends real meat for high-value rewards.

“Hot dogs cut into tiny pieces work great for training my Golden Retriever. The smellier the better!”

If your dog still struggles with leave it command, revisit our guide on clicker training to reinforce the positive reinforcement method.

Putting It All Together: Real-Life Practice

Once your dog understands leave it consistently:

Practice in different locations – back yard, front yard, different rooms, dog park, pet store, while walking, etc. Start easy and work up to highly distracting areas.

Use different temptations – food, toys, animals, people, other dogs.

Increase distance – Work up to 20-30 feet between dog and temptation.

Randomize when you give the cue – ask for leave it when your dog isn’t expecting it. It keeps them sharp.

Phase out treats – slowly shift to more praise as the reward. Treats are useful tools in training, but you want the command itself to become rewarding.

Top Tips for Teaching Leave It Effectively

Follow these best practices as you train the leave it command:

Be patient – this is an advanced skill requiring impulse control. Take small steps.

Make it fun! Use upbeat voice and praise. Never punish your dog for struggling.

End on a good note – if your dog is constantly failing, stop and try again later. Don’t let them get too frustrated.

Short, frequent sessions are best, especially for young dogs. Just 5-10 minutes a few times a day.

Use top-quality rewards your dog loves – real meat, cheese, favorite toy, etc. This motivates!

Gradually step up distractions as success continues. Don’t overwhelm them.

Be consistent with your verbal cue – “leave it” works well. Use the same phrase family members will remember.

Mastering the “leave it” command takes patience and consistent practice, but it is one of the most valuable skills we can teach our dogs.

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