How to Teach a Dog to Leave It

Useful as it is to teach your dog how to pick up a toy, it’s more important that he learns how to leave something alone when you ask him. On the odd occasion when he’s showing an interest in something that’s within his reach but not yours, and which he really shouldn’t have, you need to be able to ask him to stop what he’s doing in the confident expectation that he’ll obey you. This is generally an easy exercise to teach.


Teach your dog to leave an object alone on your command.

  1. Take a toy that your dog often plays with and likes and arm yourself with some treats that are accessible but that your dog can’t see.
  2. Pass the toy from hand to hand, waving or squeaking it to attract his attention.
  3. Your dog will probably think you’re starting a game and make a move on the toy. As he moves toward it and paws it, or tries to take it in his mouth, ask him to “Leave It” in a low, steady voice.
  4. The moment he stops, or pauses, in his efforts to get the toy, reward him with a treat, using the hand
    that’s not holding the toy. You’ll need to use split-second timing and wait for a distinct pause, however short, before treating him.
  5. Practice “Leave It” every day—you can use a variety of different toys—until your dog begins to
    understand that the cue means he should back off and stop what he’s doing, whatever that is. As he
    becomes familiar with the cue and you practice more, he will learn to back off faster.


To immediately stop what he’s doing when you ask him.


It’s convenient from your point of view (fewer chewed socks or kids’ toys), and
it helps to keep him safe.


Bear in mind, when you’re teaching “Leave It,” that it’s best to start teaching your dog using something that he likes, but better to avoid his favorite toy of all time—he will find it much harder to give it up and you may inadvertently provoke him into guarding behavior (see here for more information on toy
obsessiveness). Instead, choose a toy or ball that holds his moderate interest and set it against some highvalue treats such as cheese or chicken to help to make it easier for him to give it up to you.


I'm a professional dog trainer who is sharing my journey as I transition to positive reinforcement based dog training methods.

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