How to Train Your Cat to “Leave It” (lifesaver command)

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Ever wished you had a magic word to stop your feline friend from pouncing on your prized houseplants or swatting at your precious collectibles?

Training your cat to “Leave it” could be the answer to your prayers. Now, we know cats have a reputation for being free spirits, but with patience and a touch of ingenuity, you can teach your furry pal this potentially life-saving command.

Stick around – we’ve got some handy tips to turn “Leave it” into your cat’s new mantra.

white and black cat biting a green statue of liberty figurine

Why “Leave It” Could Be a Lifesaver

Cats are curious creatures.

While their adventurous spirit is endearing, it can sometimes lead them to places they’re not supposed to be.

That tiny hole behind the dishwasher? It’s a secret cat highway. Your knitting wool? Obviously, it’s the world’s most exciting cat toy. This is where the command “Leave It” comes into play.

Beyond saving your delicate decor or your half-finished knitting project, it could prevent your cat from swallowing something harmful or venturing into dangerous territory. A well-timed “Leave It” could save you a trip to the vet, or worse, a heartbreak.

Preparing for Training: Things You Need

Training your cat to respond to “Leave It” might be easier than you think. But before you dive in, there are a few things you need to gather.

First off, patience. Cats aren’t always as eager to please as their canine counterparts, but with time and consistency, they’ll catch on.

Next, you’ll need a clicker, such as the PetSafe Training Clicker. A clicker provides a clear, consistent signal that helps your cat understand exactly when they’ve done something right. It’s a small tool that can make a big difference in your training sessions.

Finally, you’ll need a selection of tasty treats to reward your cat’s good behavior. Wellness Kittles Crunchy Cat Treats are a great option. They’re grain-free, come in a variety of flavors, and their small size is perfect for training sessions. Your cat’s attention may wander, but the promise of a favorite treat can work wonders in keeping them engaged.

So, with these tools at hand, you’re ready to embark on the training journey. Remember, the path to feline obedience is paved with patience, consistency, and, of course, a good sprinkle of kitty treats.

Steps to Teach Your Cat “Leave It”

Cats can be a bit more independent than their canine counterparts, but with the right approach, teaching them the ‘Leave It’ command can be simpler than you think. Here’s a step-by-step guide based on years of hands-on experience with our own feline companions:

  1. Initiate Interest. Start by holding a treat in your closed hand and let your cat sniff it. They’ll surely be intrigued. However, don’t let them take the treat just yet.
  2. Introduce the Command. As your cat is showing interest in the treat, clearly say “Leave It.” Make sure to maintain a firm but gentle tone. Cats respond better to consistency, so keep your command and tone constant throughout the training.
  3. Reward Compliance. When your cat moves away from your hand or loses interest in the treat, mark that behavior with a click from your clicker. Immediately offer them a treat from your other hand. This will help your cat associate the ‘Leave It’ command with positive rewards.
  4. Repeat and Reinforce. Repeat these steps multiple times over several training sessions. Remember, patience is key. Cats may take a bit longer to make the connection, but don’t get disheartened.
  5. Test and Gradual Advancement. Once your cat starts to get the hang of it, you can try it with other objects, like a favorite toy. Gradually move on to more enticing objects, always reinforcing the positive behavior with a treat and a click.
  6. Introduce Distractions. The ultimate test is to practice ‘Leave It’ when your cat is distracted. This might be during playtime or when they are doing something they shouldn’t be. Remain patient and keep those treats handy.

We can simplify these steps in a table:

1Initiate Interest: Present a treat in your closed hand
2Introduce Command: Say “Leave It” as your cat shows interest
3Reward Compliance: Mark positive behavior with a click and treat
4Repeat and Reinforce: Conduct multiple sessions over time
5Test and Advance: Gradually use more enticing objects
6Introduce Distractions: Practice during times of distraction

Remember, every cat is unique, and training might take longer for some than others. What’s essential is to maintain a positive and encouraging environment during training sessions.

This method isn’t just a technique picked up from books – it’s a tried-and-tested approach shaped by years of personal experience and understanding of feline behavior. So, trust the process, believe in your cat, and before you know it, ‘Leave It’ will become a regular part of their vocabulary.

Suggested reading: Cat Training – Train Your Cat To “Stay”

brown cat biting on a shirt of the owner

What If My Cat Doesn’t Listen?

Teaching your cat a new command can sometimes be challenging, and there will be moments when it seems like they aren’t quite catching on. Here’s how you can tackle this situation effectively and uniquely, based on the rich tapestry of experience we’ve gathered over the years.

  • Consistency is Key. Cats, like most pets, thrive on consistency. Ensure you are using the same ‘Leave It’ command in the same tone every time. This gives your cat a better chance to recognize and respond to it.
  • Patience, Patience, Patience. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Training takes time, and it’s perfectly okay if your cat doesn’t get it right away. Keep the training sessions short and sweet to avoid overwhelming your cat.
  • Adjust Your Expectations. Cats aren’t dogs. They have a different learning curve. Understanding and respecting your cat’s unique pace of learning is essential.
  • Positive Reinforcement. If your cat isn’t responding, they might need a bit more motivation. Try using higher-value treats or their favorite toy as a reward.
  • Consider Your Cat’s Mood. Cats are extremely mood-dependent. Try to initiate training when your cat is relaxed and receptive.
  • Consult a Professional. If you’re still struggling, don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional cat behaviorist. They can provide insights that are tailored to your cat’s specific behavior.

Now, here’s a unique tip that most guides don’t offer: the power of indirect learning. Cats are observant creatures and they learn a lot from their environment. If you have more than one pet, training them together can sometimes encourage the less responsive pet to follow suit. This is a technique often overlooked but can be a game-changer in your training process. So next time, try involving your other pets in the session and see if your cat picks up on their cues.

As for the things of what not to do: Try to avoid reacting negatively or using a harsh tone if your cat doesn’t follow the command immediately. Over-rewarding is also not recommended as it can confuse your cat and disrupt the training process.

Remember, each cat is an individual with a unique personality and pace. As cat lovers and experts, we know this more than anyone. So while it might be frustrating when your cat doesn’t listen, hang in there! Your cat will learn this if you keep at it.

Suggested reading: How to Train Your Cat To “Come” to You

Making “Leave It” Second Nature: Practice and Patience

Engraining the “Leave It” command into your cat’s repertoire isn’t an overnight process. 

Remember my cat, Smokey? There was this one instance where he became fixated on a houseplant, continually swatting at the leaves despite the “Leave It” command. It was a challenging period, but here’s what I learned from the experience.

Make training a routine. Incorporating the “Leave It” command into your daily play sessions can help your cat acclimatize to the command faster. With Smokey, I found that brief, repeated sessions throughout the day worked best.

Vary the objects you use during practice sessions. This teaches your cat that “Leave It” applies to all items, not just the one toy you’ve been using. In Smokey’s case, I had to vary between toys, treats, and occasionally a leaf from the plant he was so attracted to.

Use real scenarios. While practicing, create real-life situations where you would want your cat to obey the command. For example, if your cat tends to swat at your food, use meal times as training opportunities.

Progress slowly and gradually. Begin with less tempting items and gradually move on to more enticing ones. This allows your cat to master control over its impulses in a structured manner.

Lastly, take time to understand your cat’s responses. If your cat is struggling, it could be due to stress, confusion, or simply not recognizing the command. In these cases, go back a step and try again.

Training Smokey to leave the houseplant alone was a trial of patience and understanding, but the day he finally turned away from the plant on hearing “Leave It,” the victory felt immense. It’s these moments that make the journey worthwhile.

And I believe, with these tips and your unyielding patience, you’re well on your way to making “Leave It” a second nature for your cat.

Improve your cat behavior by teaching your cat:


Is the ‘leave it’ command useful for food-related issues?

The ‘leave it’ command is highly beneficial for food-related issues, particularly if your cat tends to go after human food or unattended meals.

Can I use ‘leave it’ when my cat is playing with inappropriate objects?

Absolutely, the ‘leave it’ command can be used when your cat is playing with inappropriate objects. It’s a universal command meant to redirect your cat’s behavior.

How can I make my cat understand what ‘leave it’ means?

To help your cat understand the ‘leave it’ command, start by associating the command with a particular action during play or training sessions. Positive reinforcement when they obey the command can also boost their understanding.

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