Teaching your dog “leave it” is an important cue, and should be practiced often. It’s a wonderful lesson in impulse control and could, literally, save his life one day. Whether it’s food he finds on the street, broken glass, anti-freeze in a puddle, a dog you’re concerned about or a child headed your way, knowing how to “leave it” is critical.
Teaching it is easy, the key is consistency and repetition. I’m including a few variations in case one resonates more than the others, but the basics are the same with minor differences in approach.
You may be wondering why I’m writing about a training tip, when this is a site for people with senior dogs! Lots of people adopt older dogs, and not all of them have been well trained, which is why I like to provide some helpful tips.
♦ No matter which example you’ll be trying, keep each training session short, about 5 minutes and repeat a couple of times a day. You don’t want him losing interest.
♦ Start off in a quiet room with no distractions, and as he improves you’ll practice with – people in the same room, outside in the yard, in the front with traffic and on your walks. The more distractions you’ll encounter, the more you may have to increase the value of the treat.
♦ Keep the treat small so he eats it quickly and won’t gain weight!!
♦ It may take a bit of time to get the hang of it, but do your best to not let your dog get the treat. Every time he does, it sets back training. Don’t worry he will still learn it, but it may take longer.
♦ Keep treats in a pouch on your belt or pocket so they’re always within reach.
Put a chunk of turkey, ham or chicken in your hand, close it and let your dog sniff or paw at it. When he (finally) backs off say “yes” in an enthusiastic tone, and give him a very small piece as a reward.
Practice that several times so he starts to understand he only gets the food when he leaves your hand alone. Now add the words “leave it” when he’s no longer pawing at you.
You want to get to the point where you have the food in your closed hand, your dog is not pawing at it, you’re saying “leave it” then rewarding him.
Show him the food with your hand open, while hiding a tasty treat in your other closed hand. Be sure your open hand isn’t close enough for your dog to snatch the food. When he stays away from it say “leave it” then give him the treat from the closed hand.
Have two different types of treats – one that is okay or what we refer to as low value, and the other we call “high value” which is something he finds delicious. Put one in each hand, make a fist then put both hands behind your back. Show your dog the fist with the low value treat and let him sniff. Say “leave it,” wait until he loses interest, say “yes” in an excited voice and give him the high value treat from your other hand.
Repeat, repeat, repeat until your dog stops sniffing as soon as you say “leave it.”
Only move on to step 2 if your dog is reliably listening each time.
Leash your dog, toss a low value treat slightly out of his reach, and when he stops pulling to get to that treat say “yes” in an excited voice and give him a high value treat from your hand.
This teaches him that he doesn’t lose out by not being able to get to that treat, and will get something even more delicious.
With your dog still on a leash – you want him to leave a variety of items not just food, so look around the house and see what else you can use. Start with something he’s not terribly interested in (low value) and work your way up to things he enjoys more which makes the exercise more challenging. Always reward with that high value treat you have in your hand.
** You’ll be able to do this off leash in time.
It’s easier if you sit on the floor for this one. Place a treat on the floor, and cover it with your hand. Keep it there as long as your dog is sniffing or clawing at you, and when he stops say “yes” then give him the treat. After a couple of tries add the words “leave it” when he stops, then “yes” then treat.
Now that he’s gotten good at step 1 it’s time to try it without covering the treat. I recommend you keep your hand on the floor close by so you can quickly cover it if he makes a grab for it.
I keep my hand very close to the food and use my index finger as a warning to keep back while I say “leave it.” Reward him when deserved.
Note: Don’t make him wait for the treat. Say “leave it” and the second he does reward him immediately. As you practice over time, you’ll be able to leave a longer gap for the reward.
Put a treat in one hand with an open palm so your dog can see it and smell it, and a treat in the other which you’ll hide behind your back.
Show your dog the food from your open hand and say “leave it.” If he tries to get it close your hand, put it behind your back and say “no.” When he does finally leave it when asked, be sure to reward him with the treat from your other hand.
Put a treat on the floor, a treat in one hand, a leash on your dog and walk him past it saying “leave it.” If he was successful then reward him. When he’s doing well with the treat, put other objects on the floor you’d like him to leave.
I hope you found these examples helpful. I recommend starting with one and sticking with that until you’re seeing results. If, for whatever reason you’re having trouble getting the hang of one of the options, or your dog isn’t responding, move on and try the next one.
I’d love to hear how your training is going, so leave me a comment and include a picture if you’d like.
I’m a dog trainer specialising in working with senior dogs. Whether you have health & wellness concerns, or you’ve just rescued an older dog and need training tips, I can help! Sessions are conducted via Zoom and I offer a FREE 15 minute no obligation chat. To book, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website.