How to Teach a Puppy “Leave It”

A German Shepherd laying by a glass bowl of kibble.

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The “leave it” command is one of the most important basic commands to teach your puppy. 

This command can help keep them out of dangerous situations by teaching them that some things are not to be eaten.

Once your puppy learns the “leave it” command, you will be able to tell them to “leave it” whenever they see something they shouldn’t eat.

Granted, this will take practice and some dogs are much better at learning this command than others.

Just between my dogs, Luna listens to “leave it” much better than Morgan.

Though to be fair, Morgan has always been more food motivated than Luna when it comes to anything that isn’t kibble.

And she will leave whatever it is she’s trying to eat if we are fast enough to say “leave it” before she gets it in her mouth. 

Especially if we use a more excited tone of voice than we do for other commands like “sit.”

Regardless of which type of dog you have, teaching “leave it” is a simple process that just needs positive reinforcement and regular practice.

Pin image of a German Shepherd lying next to a bowl of kibble with a text overlay that reads how to teach a puppy to leave it: tips for teaching this skill.

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The Importance of ‘Leave It’

Teaching your puppy the “Leave It” command is important for keeping them safe and can save your dog’s life.

Most dogs, especially puppies, are curious about their surroundings and have a tendency to eat or mouth whatever they find. 

By teaching them “leave it” you will help them avoid potentially dangerous situations, like eating a toxic substance.

And trust me, rushing your puppy to the vet because they may have eaten something bad for them is not fun.

I had to do that when Luna was a puppy before she had learned “leave it.”

I was at work and my son called to tell me he dropped his pill on the floor and that he thought Luna got it.

I called the vet and was told that I could either induce vomiting at home (they would provide instructions) or bring her in.

I had to rush home to get her to the vet (I was not going to induce vomiting at home).

They took her back and did what they needed to.

Unfortunately, they did not find the pill, just pieces of the outer layer of the pill.

I had to keep an eye on her for the rest of the day since they couldn’t be sure they got all of it out.

Turns out, Luna had spit the pill out as the outer layer dissolved, so there was no pill in her stomach to come up. (I found the pill the next day on the carpet near the couch).

But, had Luna known “leave it,” this whole situation could have been avoided.

Besides the obvious safety value of teaching “leave it” it’s also a good way to practice impulse control

And may help to prevent resource guarding.

If your dog does develop resource guarding, seek the help of a professional dog trainer as just teaching “leave it” isn’t enough for these dogs.

How to Teach “Leave It” to Your Puppy

A bag of dog treats next to a glass bowl of dog kibble.

Before you can start teaching “leave it” you need to have two types of treats, one high value treat and one lower value treat.

Examples of a high value treat are your dog’s favorite treat, cheese, or cooked chicken. 

Low value treats could be a treat your dog doesn’t like as much as the high value treat, or even some of their regular kibble.

If your dog isn’t food motivated, the high value treat could be their favorite toy or a quick game of tug.

Show Your Dog A Treat

A poodle terrier looking at a dog treat on an open palm.

Start the training session by having your dog in a sit position. 

Then, place a low value treat in your hand, show it to your dog, and make a fist around it.

A German Shepherd sniffing a closed fist.

As your dog attempts to get the treat, using their paws or licking your hand, remain patient and wait for them to stop trying. 

As soon as they do, use a marker word like “yes” and reward them with a high-value treat from the other hand. 

A German Shepherd getting a treat.

Giving them a tasty treat from the other hand teaches them that they can’t always have what they want.

But they will get something better by waiting.

Make sure to practice this step several times to build a strong foundation.

Add the Verbal Cue

Once your dog is consistently leaving the low-value treat to get a different treat, it’s time to add the verbal cue of “leave it.”

As you show your dog the treat in your hand, say “leave it” and wait for your dog to stop trying to get it. 

When they do, use your marker word and reward them. 

Repeat this process until your dog starts to associate the verbal cue with the desired behavior.

Increase the Difficulty

A poodle terrier looking away from a piece of kibble on an open hand.

Once your dog can consistently “leave it” with the treat in a closed fist, start leaving your hand open. 

If they try to get the low-value treat in your hand, close your fist and wait for your puppy to stop trying to get the treat.

Once they stop, reward them with the other treat.

Continue this step until your dog can leave the treat on your open hand without having to close your fist.

Increase the Wait Time

As your dog gets better at ignoring the treat in your hand, the next step is to increase the time before they get their reward.

This helps to teach them that they may not always get an immediate reward for listening to you and not eating what you don’t want them to.

As you increase the wait time, do so slowly and follow your dog’s progress.

If they start having difficulties, decrease the amount of time you are asking them to wait before rewarding them.

Increase the Distance

Once your dog is consistently leaving the treat on an open palm and managing to do this for longer times, it’s time to increase the distance between you and your dog.

To start this step, show your dog the treat and place it on the floor near them.

Stay near your dog and reward them with the higher value treat as soon as they look away from the treat on the floor.

Once your dog is consistently able to look away from the treat on the floor, start moving farther away from them.

Increase the distance small amounts at a time until your dog can leave it with you across the room.

If at any time your dog is unable to resist the treat on the floor, decrease the distance to where they last were able to be successful.

Practice more at that distance before increasing it again.

Practice With Other Items

Once your dog has mastered the “leave it” command with treats, begin practicing with other items. 

This could include their favorite toys, items found during walks, and other household items that may fall on the floor. 

Remember always to use your cue word and reward them with a delicious treat when they successfully leave the item alone.

Practice In Other Locations

Next, start practicing the “leave it” command in different environments like other rooms in the house, the backyard, on walks, or at the park.

This helps your dog learn that the “leave it” command applies to all locations and not just the living room at home.

When you first start practicing in a new environment, go back to the early stage of teaching “leave it” by having the treat in your hand.

As your dog is able to leave the treat in your hand, slowly increase the time and distance just like you did when first introducing each of those.

Practice the Emergency Situation

The final step in the “leave it” training process is to practice the emergency situation. 

This step mimics real life situations like the one I described in the importance of teaching “leave it.”

Since many of the times you will need to tell your dog to leave something involve a falling object, like a dropped pill or dropped food (a common occurrence in my house when I’m cooking with onions), you need to practice “leave it” with a falling treat.

It’s best to be in a low distraction environment the first time you practice “leave it” with a moving object.

Just like the above steps, start with your dog in a sit position. 

Then take the low value treat and drop it near your dog.

As you drop it, say “leave it.”

As soon as your dog looks away from the treat, praise them and give them a different treat from what you dropped.

Then pick up the treat you dropped.

You need to make sure to pick up what you dropped to show your dog that in these situations they do not get to eat what dropped.

But they do get to eat a different yummy treat.

Maintaining Training and Behavior

A German Shepherd laying next to a glass bowl of kibble.

Once your dog is consistently listening to the “leave it” command in various locations with different items, you can cut back on the regular training.

Cutting back does not mean stopping all together. 

It means you can start focusing on a different command and just occasionally practice the “leave it” command so your dog doesn’t forget it.

There are several basic dog training commands, like sit, down, leave it, come, and stay, that need to be taught to your puppy. 

Once they have one down, move on to the next, but never completely stop practicing the ones they have already learned.

How to Deal with Challenges

While “leave it” is one of the most important commands to teach your puppy, sometimes it can be challenging.

If you start having difficulties with teaching this command, there are a few things you can do to move past those challenges.

Remember to remain patient and calm while training your puppy.

Some puppies and dogs have a harder time grasping certain commands and patience from you is needed in these situations.

If your puppy is consistently struggling, start with something they are good at, like practicing “sit” before moving to “leave it” for that training session.

If that doesn’t help, take a step back in the training process. 

Maybe you thought your puppy was ready for the next step, but in actuality, they aren’t yet.

Also look at the treats you are using. 

Is the low value treat too tempting for them? 

Try switching to their kibble for the low value treat and increase the value of the other treat.

Also, make sure you are giving them verbal praise when they do leave the treat.

Verbal praise added to the higher value treat will help to show your puppy that you are happy with what they did.

It’s also possible that the environment you are in is too distracting for your puppy. 

If that is the case, try moving to a quieter area of your home until your puppy is able to successfully listen to the “leave it” command.

If all else fails, seek the assistance of a certified dog trainer. 

They should be able to help you figure out what the issue is and help you get your puppy properly trained with the “leave it” command.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best way to introduce the “leave it” command to a puppy?

The best way to introduce the “leave it” command to your puppy is to do it slowly and start with the treat in your hand and make a fist. 

That way your puppy can’t get the treat no matter how hard they try.

Once they leave your hand alone, reward them with a treat from the other hand.

Repeat this process to help them understand the command.

Are there any tips for reinforcing the “leave it” command in daily routines?

Having treats in several locations around your home will help with reinforcing “leave it” in your daily routine. 

At random times during the day, drop something that your dog might be interested in and say “leave it.”

Then reward with a treat when your dog listens to the command.

At what age is it appropriate to start teaching a puppy the ‘leave it’ command?

You can start teaching your puppy “leave it” as soon as they come home which is usually between 8 and 12 weeks old.

Though your puppy can start learning the “leave it” command at this age, it is easier to teach after they have already learned a few other basic commands such as “sit” and “down.”

Once they have started learning those commands with positive reinforcement techniques, it will be easier for them to grasp the concept of leaving one treat to get a different treat from you.

How do I ensure my puppy understands the ‘leave it’ command in various contexts?

To make sure your puppy understands the ‘leave it’ command in different contexts, practice the command in various locations and with different distractions. 

You can practice at home, in the park, or during neighborhood walks.

Change the items you want your puppy to leave and include different distractions, such as other dogs or people.

Consistency and patience are key in achieving success with this command.

Pin image of a German Shepherd lying next to a bowl of kibble with a text overlay that reads tips for training your dog to leave it on command.

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