Teaching your Dog to Leave
By Tamsin Durston
Teaching your Dog to Leave Something They Want
Why teaching a dog to leave something they want is such an important and useful skill
Leaving something well alone, particularly if it’s something very tempting that you really want, is potentially a life-saving skill! Dogs are natural scavengers and might eat all kinds of things they come across when they’re out and about so it’s incredibly useful to be able to divert their attention away from something that might cause them to be ill. Dogs can also enjoy picking things up, carrying them and chewing them – so having a way to tell them to leave something alone instead of pick it up, such as your new shoes, or a dropped medicine packet!, can keep everything and everyone safe and sound.
If we don’t teach dogs to leave things alone then we’re more likely to rush to them and grab them when they pick something up they’re not supposed to and snatch it away from them in order to keep things safe. This might make them panic and be worried about us! They might also learn to run away with things they find and chew them up quickly because they’re worried about how we might react. It’s much better to teach them that ignoring things when we ask is a really rewarding thing to do and always a good choice, so everyone can relax!
How to teach your dog to leave something that they want
- Start with two different types of food - plain and boring v. extra tasty
Have the boring food (dry biscuit) in one hand, and the extra tasty food (sausage or cheese) in your other hand and place this behind your back. Close your hands around the pieces of food and make fists.
- Hold out the boring food, stay still and keep quiet
Hold out the fist with the boring food and let your dog sniff your hand. Keep your hand still as moving it away from your dog might encourage them to jump up. Say nothing at all and simply wait for your dog to move their nose away from your hand.
- When your dog moves away from the boring food reward them with the tasty treat
As soon as your dog moves their nose away from the fist with the boring food in it, produce your other hand with the tasty treat in it and let them have it. Tell them what a good dog they are!
- Repeat, repeat, repeat!
Dogs learn by repeating things and you’ll find that by doing this over and over again your dog will get much quicker at leaving the hand with the boring food in it as soon as you offer it because they know that this makes the tasty food appear!
- Add in the “leave” word
Once your dog is consistently moving away from the boring food being offered to them you can start to say “leave” as you hold out your hand and they move away. There’s no need to shout, as this might worry your dog. They already know what to do so you can both be confident, and they’ll soon start to associate the word “leave” with the action of moving away.
- Practice in different places with more distractions
Once your dog has the hang of it, practice in different locations. In each new place, go back to the beginning again and work through all the steps to give your dog confidence and help them get it right from the start. They might find it harder because there are more distractions around, so be patient and go at their pace!
How to progress the ‘leave’
Now that your dog can leave food in your hand, you can move on to different items and situations, so they’re fully prepared for real-life! You need to know what your dog really likes so that you can always reward them with something they will find enjoyable – there’s no point asking them to leave a delicious dropped ice cream cone on the pavement in order to reward them with a toy if they’re not at all interested in the toy in the first place! Make a list of all the things your dog likes and enjoys so you know the types of rewards you can use in different situations.
- Start with two toys – a boring toy your dog doesn’t really play with much, and a fun toy!
Hold the fun toy behind your back and the boring toy out towards your dog. Let them sniff it and hold it still, staying calm and quiet.
- When your dog moves away from the boring toy, produce the fun toy as a reward
As soon as your dog moves their nose away from the boring toy bring out the fun toy and have a great game. Keep quiet at this point, even though your dog knows the word “leave” when food is around they’ll need to learn it again in relation to other items.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat… and introduce the word “leave” when they’ve got the hang of it
As when teaching this with food, practicing over and over again will help your dog learn exactly what to do in order to get their reward. When your dog is reliably moving away from the first toy, you’re ready to start saying “leave” as they do so.
Carry on making it harder!
Up to this point, you’ve been holding whatever it is you’ve wanted your dog to leave, but in reality things you’ll want to ask your dog to leave alone will often be found lying on the ground – think dropped food, new shoes, picnics, children’s toys, all potentially very tempting!
- Place the object on the ground
With your dog on-lead to help them get it right from the start, place the first object (the boring food or toy) on the ground just slightly further than the end of the lead so your dog can’t actually reach it if they try. Let your dog look at the object and try to sniff it while you stay calm and quiet. Wait for them to realise they can’t get it and move away, or turn to you, then present the tasty food or the fun toy and reward them. Practice over again and once your dog is moving away consistently you can start to say “leave” as they turn away from the object on the ground.
Remember to ALWAYS reward your dog for leaving anything you ask with something they really want and enjoy!