Leave It

Teach Your Dog the 'Leave It' Cue

The 'leave it' cue teaches your dog an invaluable lesson in impulse control that can be useful in many situations. The 'it' in question might be food that has fallen on the floor, something your dog picks up on a walk, another dog, or even a child.

Like the recall this is an important safety cue and should be taught as soon as your new puppy or dog joins your family. This cue teaches your dog to take his nose away from something but not to release something from his mouth. If you want your dog to drop something, the “drop it” cue should be given.

Training Techniques:


  • Hold a piece of food in your fingers, leaving only a little bit sticking out so that your dog does not have easy access to it.
  • Extend the food toward your dog’s nose and let him work out how he is going to get it out of your hand.
  • Your dog may try smelling, nibbling, or pawing at the treat, but don’t give it to him until he hesitates momentarily, either by stopping and moving his nose back or by turning his head away.
  • When he makes any motion to move away, praise him and give him the food you have in your hand.
  • Repeat this exercise a couple of times until your dog 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 will build 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 for complying

Now that you have built up an association with the word and the action, you can make it harder for your dog.

  • Put the food on your open palm so that he can see and smell it.
  • Place a food reward in your other hand and hide it behind your back.
  • Show your dog the food in your open palm and ask him to 'leave it.' At this stage it may be harder for your dog to comply because now he can actually see the treat right in front of him.
  • If he tries to get it, cup your hand over the treat and place your hand behind you for a few seconds, saying the words 'uh-oh' as you do this. This is called a no reward marker and tells your dog that he will not be rewarded for his noncompliance.
  • If your dog does comply, do not reward him with the treat from the hand that you have asked him to leave. Give him the food reward that you are holding in your other hand. At this stage it’s essential that he never gets the food that he has decided to leave, so the reward now has to come from elsewhere.


Photo by Sue Collura Studio | www.suecollura.com

Up the ante by making it even harder for your dog.

  • Put the food on a table or the floor.
  • Repeat the process, rewarding your dog with a treat in your hand, not the one on the table or floor.


  • Put a leash on your dog and walk him past the treat on the floor.
  • If he reaches for it, say 'leave it' without jerking the leash, and praise and reward him for his compliance. If he grabs the treat, don’t try to get it out of his mouth. 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. Once your dog is doing well with this cue inside the home, you can start to use it outside.

Problem: My dog will respond in the home but he doesn’t listen to me outside.

Solution: Up the value of his reward outside so that it is almost impossible for him to ignore you. More distractions means other things to focus on but if are holding the jackpot reward then he will respond more reliably.

Why does my dog need to know this?
The leave it cue could literally save your dog’s life. You can use this cue to prevent your dog from picking up and ingesting trash from the streets as well as preventing her making contact with another dog or person.

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8 thoughts on “Leave It

  1. Joylyn

    I really want to teach my 7 month old puppy this. There is just one problem. When I put the treat in my hand and she just keeps licking and licking at the treat, she figures out she can't get it out. Then all she does is stare at my hand and won't look away. Should I just stand there and wait for her to get bored and look away?

  2. Natalia Rogers

    I would think once she stops trying to get the treat is when you reward her. It's essentially "leaving" it alone.

  3. Laura Rakestraw

    If she's stopped actively trying to get the treat, even if she's still looking at your hand, then she's achieved the first step and should be rewarded for it. She pulled her nose away, which is what you're looking for. Once she can do that reliably, then you can ask for her to look at you instead (teach a 'watch me' cue, so she can get used to looking to you for more direction). But asking for her to look away is an additional level of self control, which you can address at a later step. First, she needs to learn that simply not trying to grab it is the way to get the treat.

  4. Amanda Haas

    I taught my 3 month old puppy to leave it, and he loves his food. I set a treat on the floor in front of him, and said leave it. If he would try to get it you cover the treat with your hand. Once he backs off again uncover it. Repeat the process until he doesn't go for it. Then he can have the treat once he doesn't try to take it.

  5. S.C.

    That can get confusing. Leave it, ok now you can have it. Make sure you reward from another hand. Don't let puppy get treat on floor you just said leave it for. Leave it should mean Always leave it.
    The treat on floor is good for stays. Tell dog to sit & stay. Put treat on ground. If puppy stYs say Ok and let them eat it. If they get up before you say ok, pick up treat and reset sit/stay.

  6. hungrycoyote

    Amazing.It stretches my brain to learn how to train properly and it MUST be broken down for me.I'm so glad Victoria is teaching her method.

  7. *Husky pup*

    I have a husky puppy who is 9 weeks old
    Can I expect her to be able to achieve all stages?
    Love your methods thanks so much

  8. Positively

    HI Amy, we recommend a consultation with a qualified trainer to give you some tips on how to manage or change this behavior. It is impossible to give you good advice without seeing your pup's behavior, I'm afraid.
    For immediate help, I recommend that you visit our website and plug in your zip code or city to see if there is a VSPDT local to you. If there isn't, there is always the option of doing a phone consultation with one of them.
    Here is the link to search for a VSPDT:
    Here is the link to request a phone consultation:
    Either way, you should be able to get some very much-needed help.
    The Team at Positively

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