Beginner’s Guide to the ‘Leave It’ Command for Dogs

Picture this: You’re enjoying a relaxing walk with your furry companion when suddenly, they spot a piece of trash or a potentially dangerous object and make a beeline for it. 

The “Leave It” command is a lifesaver in such situations, helping you keep your beloved pet safe and well-behaved. 

A versatile and essential command, “Leave It”, not only prevents your dog from picking up unwanted items but also has numerous applications in everyday life. 

In this beginner’s guide, we’ll explore the importance of the “Leave It” command, teach you the right way to train your dog, and offer expert tips to make this skill a lifelong habit for your four-legged friend.

Get ready to unlock the power of this game-changing command!

brown dog lying on gray floor

Why is the ‘Leave It’ Command Essential?

The “Leave It” command is crucial for your dog’s safety and well-being, as it helps them avoid potentially harmful items or situations. 

By teaching your dog this command, you’re setting boundaries and promoting good manners, making your pet easier to manage in various environments. 

It’s an invaluable tool for preventing accidents, reinforcing self-control, and fostering a harmonious relationship between you and your furry friend.

Real-Life Applications of ‘Leave It’

There are numerous practical applications for the “Leave It” command in everyday life. Some of these include:

  • Preventing your dog from picking up dangerous items such as sharp objects, toxic substances, or spoiled food that could cause injury or illness.
  • Stopping your dog from grabbing items that don’t belong to them, like a child’s toy or a neighbor’s belongings.
  • Redirecting your dog’s attention from distractions during walks, such as other dogs, squirrels, or passing cars, ensuring a more controlled and enjoyable walking experience.
  • Teaching your dog to resist the temptation of stealing food from countertops, tables, or even the hands of unsuspecting guests.

Mastering the “Leave It” command offers practical benefits that make your dog a safer, more well-behaved companion in various situations.

How to Teach ‘Leave It’ the Right Way?

Teaching your dog the “Leave It” command can be broken down into manageable steps. Follow this easy-to-understand, step-by-step guide to help your dog learn this essential command effectively:

  1. Start in a quiet, distraction-free environment. To begin, choose a location with minimal distractions to help your dog focus on the task at hand.
  2. Introduce two treats with differing values. Select one high-value treat that your dog loves and a low-value treat that’s less enticing. This will help establish a reward hierarchy for the training process.
  3. Present the low-value treat. Close the low-value treat in your hand and present it to your dog. Allow them to sniff and investigate, but don’t open your hand. Say “Leave It” in a firm but gentle tone.
  4. Mark and reward the desired behavior. Once your dog stops trying to get the treat and looks away, mark the behavior with a clicker or a verbal marker like “Yes!” Then, reward them with the high-value treat from your other hand.

Once your dog consistently responds to the ‘Leave It’ command in this controlled setting, it’s time to take their training to the next level. The following section will help you advance your dog’s ‘Leave It’ skills and incorporate positive reinforcement effectively.

Similar to the ‘Leave it’ command, the ‘Drop it’ command comes with a lot of benefits as well. Check out our other blog post on how to teach your dog to ‘Drop it’.

Enhancing ‘Leave It’ Skills with Positive Reinforcement

Now that your dog understands the basics of the ‘Leave It’ command, it’s essential to refine their skills and ensure they can respond effectively in a variety of situations. 

Follow these steps to advance your dog’s ‘Leave It’ abilities while using positive reinforcement:

  1. Gradually increase the difficulty. As your dog becomes more proficient, increase the challenge by placing the low-value treat on the floor, covering it with your hand, or even leaving it uncovered. Remember to always reward with the high-value treat when your dog successfully obeys the “Leave It” command.
  2. Introduce real-life scenarios. Once your dog has mastered the command in a controlled setting, practice in real-life situations, such as during walks or when encountering tempting items around the house.
  3. Use a variable reward schedule. To maintain your dog’s interest and prevent them from becoming too reliant on receiving a treat for every correct behavior, vary the type and frequency of rewards.
  4. Teach impulse control. Incorporate exercises that promote impulse control, such as waiting for permission to eat or refraining from jumping on guests. These activities will complement the “Leave It” command and help your dog develop better self-control.
  5. Maintain consistency and practice regularly. Consistent practice is key to solidifying your dog’s “Leave It” skills. Set aside time for regular training sessions and incorporate the “Leave It” command into your daily interactions with your dog.

By following these steps and using positive reinforcement consistently, you’ll help your dog develop a strong “Leave It” behavior, which will lead to a safer and more controlled environment for both of you.

brown and black 3 month old dog sitting next to owner

Tackling Common ‘Leave It’ Command Hurdles

During the ‘Leave It’ training process, you might encounter a few challenges that can make teaching this command more difficult. Don’t worry, these obstacles are common, and with a bit of patience and persistence, you can overcome them.

Here are some typical issues dog owners face and how to address them:

Dog doesn’t respond to the command. If your dog doesn’t seem to understand the ‘Leave It’ command, go back to the basics and practice in a low-distraction environment. Make sure to use high-value treats to motivate your dog and reinforce the desired behavior.

Dog responds inconsistently. Inconsistency in your dog’s response can be caused by various factors, such as a weak training foundation or distractions. Revisit the core training steps and gradually increase the difficulty while maintaining consistency in your commands, rewards, and body language.

Dog becomes too reliant on treats. If your dog only responds to the command when treats are present, start phasing out food rewards by using a variable reinforcement schedule. This means rewarding your dog less frequently and occasionally replacing treats with praise, petting, or playtime.

Command not working in high-distraction environments. To help your dog generalize the ‘Leave It’ command, practice in different environments with varying levels of distractions. Start with minimal distractions and gradually increase the challenge as your dog becomes more reliable in their response.

Dog becomes frustrated or disengaged. If your dog seems frustrated, it may be due to advancing the training too quickly. Take a step back and work on the fundamentals to build a solid foundation. Make sure to keep training sessions short, fun, and engaging to maintain your dog’s interest.

By addressing these common challenges, you’ll be well on your way to effectively teaching your dog the ‘Leave It’ command, leading to a safer and more controlled environment for both you and your furry companion.

To learn more about basic obedience training, check our dog guides page.

Here’s a great video on getting started with “leave it” command:


At what age should I start teaching my dog the ‘Leave It’ command?

You can begin teaching your dog the ‘Leave It’ command as early as 8 weeks old, as puppies at this age are generally receptive to learning basic commands.

How often should I practice the ‘Leave It’ command with my dog?

Practice the ‘Leave It’ command with your dog in short, daily sessions of about 5-10 minutes to maintain their interest and reinforce the behavior.

Can I use the ‘Leave It’ command for other behaviors besides picking up objects?

The ‘Leave It’ command can be used for various situations, such as preventing your dog from chasing wildlife, stopping unwanted barking, or even interrupting play that becomes too rough.

How do I progress my dog’s training once they’ve mastered ‘Leave It’?

To progress your dog’s training after mastering ‘Leave It,’ start working on more advanced obedience commands, such as “Stay,” “Heel,” or “Off.” You can also introduce your dog to new challenges like agility courses, scent work, or even therapy dog training.

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