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.
- 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.
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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