Tricks & Training

‘Leave It’ – One Of The Most Important Dog Commands That Could Save Your Dog’s Life!

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By Carrie

The difference between a dog trick and a dog command is this:

  • A dog trick is just for fun — a way to teach your dog to be silly, cute, or helpful.  There is no real benefit other than to challenge your dog to learn new things and/or to amuse yourself and your friends.
  • A dog command is a way to get your dog’s attention immediately — for the purpose of protecting your dog’s safety or well-being.  There are only a handful of dog commands that you’ll ever teach your dog, including: sit, come, stay, heel, and leave it.

One of the most important dog commands you will want to teach your dog right away is the leave it command.  Simply put, the leave it command allows you to keep your dog away from something that you do not want your dog to get.

The leave it command could actually save your dog’s life!

When we got our first min pin, we started to take her to obedience class.  We learned all kinds of dog tricks, but I think the most important dog trick we taught our dog was leave it.  I only wish we would have learned the leave it command 2 weeks before we started to teach our dog.

Here’s why…

The leave it command would have come in handy when I dropped a pill on the floor and my min pin got to it the second it hit the floor!  As a result, neither my min pin nor I had fun for the next 24 hours.  We had to induce her to vomit, and the peroxide made her stomach a little raw.  For the next few days, she was on a very bland diet of cottage cheese and rice.

Today, if I drop a pill or anything else on the floor, I say leave it and neither of my dogs will bother with whatever fell on the floor.  This gives me time to pick it up before the dogs ever have a chance to play with it or swallow it.

Here’s how to teach your dog the leave it command…

Default Leave It Command

The following tips are from the video at the very end of this post.

The default leave it command is the most basic version that uses a food reward or a toy reward.

The goal is simply to get your dog familiar with what “leave it” means.

Here’s how to teach your dog the default leave it command:

  1. Allow your dog to sniff.   Have a treat in your fist and allow your dog to sniff and even scratch your fist to get at the treat.
  2. Reward when he stops sniffing or scratching.  Once your dog backs away from your fist, reward for the behavior you want (leaving it alone).
  3. Require eye contact.   Next, try getting your dog to look at you and not the treat in your fist.  The minute he looks at you, reward him for the eye contact.
  4. Practice until your dog gives you full undivided attention — even though there’s a treat that is being very distracting.   The goal is simply for the dog to understand that it’s okay to leave things alone.  That’s all.  You haven’t put a name to this command yet, so your dog doesn’t even know he’s being trained to leave it yet.  He just knows he gets rewarded when he takes his focus off the treat and looks at you instead.

If your dog is rough with your fist, try putting something in your hand that your dog likes but is not crazy about (like dog food or a small toy).


Advanced Leave It Command

Once your dog can focus on you instead of the treat in your first, then do these things to teach your dog what leave it really means:

  1. Have your dog on a leash.   This just makes it easier to bring his attention back where it should be.
  2. Place tempting (but dog-safe) food on floor.   This will entice your dog to want to get to the food.   (But do not allow your dog to get the food!)
  3. Reward when he gives you eye contact.  Once your dog turns away from the tempting food and looks at you instead, reward your dog with a separate treat.  Even if your dog turns away for only a millisecond, reward him!  (You are training your dog to leave it without saying “leave it” yet.)
  4. Do not use “No” or a correction noise.   If you use no or a correction noise, you are not allowing the dog to choose to leave the food alone on their own.  You are not correcting the unwanted behavior instead.  That will work too — eventually.  But you really want to get your dog to leave things on his own first.
  5. Practice several times in a row.   Keep practicing this until your dog has managed to leave the food completely alone without any prompting from you.  If your dog loses focus, then you may need to stop the training and re-try again in a few hours or the next day.
  6. Say “leave it.”   Once your dog has managed to leave the food alone — on his own — then  add the command “leave it.”  But don’t say leave it over and over again.  If you overuse any command, your dog will ignore you. If you have overused the leave it command and it’s not working, then try using another command like “off” or “alone.”  (Don’t say “No” because that means something entirely different than “leave it” to a dog.)

In the following video, you can see the leave it dog command being taught to a 6-month-old dog:

After Dog Commands Try Some Dog Tricks

Maybe your dog already knows the leave it command.  If so, congratulations!  Once your dog has all of the basic dog commands down, then it’s time to move onto some fun dog tricks like: pray, get the mail, and bring the remote control.

If you are looking for even more dog tricks, here are 101 dog tricks you might want to try.  These dog tricks range from easy ones like sit and bark to more difficult ones like fetch slippers and wiggle ears.