I am a huge fan of the ‘leave it’ cue. It could save your dog’s life, but it’s rare that I meet people who have actually taught this cue to their dog.
It’s often confused with ‘drop it’, but they’re two completely different cues. Drop it implies that your dog has already picked up the thing you don’t want them to have. If that’s a tablet, a bar of chocolate or a small child, it’s potentially a bit late for a cue!
So, ‘leave it’ needs to be a cue that asks the dog to move away from an item BEFORE they pick it up. Preferably, without shouting as that’s not fun for anyone. I’ve certainly met plenty of people who shout ‘leave it’ twenty times while chasing their dog around the house. Honestly, it’s easier to just teach the cue!
Over the next couple of weeks, when you’re chillaxing with your dog, try these steps and it won’t be long before your dog understands what you mean by the cue ‘leave it’ and you can relax.
I recently met a dog called Dave and it has become one of my favourite dog names, so in his honour, we’re teaching Dave to ‘leave it’!
- Hold a small piece of food in your fist so that Dave does not have easy access to it.
- Extend the food towards Dave’s nose and let him work out how he is going to get it out of your hand.
- He’ll try smelling, nibbling, or pawing at the treat.
- When he makes any motion to move his head away, praise him with your cue word (good / OK) and give him a piece of food from your other hand. It’s important that the reward comes from the other hand so he doesn’t learn to go back to the thing you’re asking him to leave!
- Repeat this exercise a couple of times until Dave consistently makes the decision to take his nose away from the food.
- Now add the words ‘leave it’ while he is in the act of moving his head away. This builds up an association between the cue and the action.
- Repeat this process a number of times.
- Once he is responding reliably, ask him to ‘leave it’ as soon as you present your hand to him; then reward him (from the other hand) for moving his head away.
- Put the food on your open palm so that he can see and smell it.
- Show Dave the food in your open palm and ask him to ‘leave it.’ I said ‘ask’, not shout!
- If he tries to eat it, just close your hand. Simples! Try again, but if you need to do this more than twice in a row, go back a stage… it just means that Dave needs more practice to learn what ‘leave it’ means.
Step Four: Only move on to this when Dave is reliably responding to the words in step three.
- Put the food on the floor and ask him to ‘leave it’.
- Repeat the process, rewarding him with a treat in your hand, not the one on the floor.
- Put Dave on his lead (harness) and walk him past the treat on the floor.
- If he reaches for it, say ‘leave it’ without pulling on the lead, then praise and reward him for being fabulous. If he grabs the treat, don’t try to get it out of his mouth or be grumpy with him. Go back to the previous stage where he was successful and build up the cue until he is ready to try again.
- Keep repeating the exercise by placing other objects on the floor – preferably the types of things you want him to leave alone. Don’t use it with his toys as he’s allowed his toys… this cue is for things we want him to walk away from.
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