Dog Training: How to Teach a Dog to Leave It Where it Belongs

How to Teach a Dog to Leave It

Dog Training: How to Teach a Dog to Leave It Where it Belongs

Like toddlers who grab and touch everything, canines can be curious to a fault. Without hands and digits, their mouths are the primary tool for exploration. Scarfing up scraps dropped from the dinner table or a hapless moth that ventures inside are generally harmless, but one wrong swallow can spell disaster.

My sister’s Doberman swallowed part of a corn cob at a cookout that resulted in severe intestinal blockage. An emergency $6,000 surgery saved his life, but that’s an exorbitant expense that many can’t handle. Dogs are mouthy, hungry beasts and it’s important to train them to “leave it” on the ground, regardless of how tempting it is. Learning “leave it” can prevent illness and just might save your pup’s life (not to mention your bank balance).

train a dog to leave it

What if I Puppy/Dog-Proof my House?

Keeping your house free of clutter and small objects that a dog can swallow is a good start. Something as simple as a Lego can have heartbreaking consequences. Prevention, however, is only half of the battle. Your dog doesn’t live in a bubble and, once outside, all bets are off. Discarded gum, chicken bones and broken plastic might seem gross to you (I assume you wouldn’t put those in your mouth), but to your dog, it’s all a potentially delicious opportunity.

Sidewalks can be dumpsters without walls. Your dog can bite into a KFC leftover or dropped medication before you realize something’s happened. Often times, you can grab whatever they’re chewing and toss it aside, but that just leaves a nasty hand and another dog could suffer a worse fate later. Training your dog to “leave it” and ignore foreign objects is the best way to avoid both vomit at 2am and potentially life-threatening situations.

Other than Pull on the Leash, What Can I Do?

Odds are you’re not constantly watching your dog during walks or outdoor playtime. You can’t avoid every nasty thing on the ground from ending up in the jaws of your furball, so it’s ultimately up to them to learn self-control. The goal is to go from understanding “leave it” to simply ignoring discarded garbage on the ground.

Dogs can be stubborn and “leave it” training isn’t a simple, overnight exercise. Similar to housetraining, it takes patience, persistence and time. Just be consistent and don’t give up easily, and your dog will catch on. A popular method is the “take it” and “leave it” approach.

Leave It Dog Training

Take It

This teaches your dog to first wait until a command is given, for example “take it” or “get it”, and then she receives a treat. Start off by allowing your dog to see the treat.

  • Hold the treat in a closed fist and allow your dog to paw and lick at it, and he will eventually quit. Praise the dog, open your fist and then give the “take it” command. This will reinforce that wating and not grabbing a treat earns a reward.
  • After several sessions, your dog should catch on and ignore your fist, waiting for the command. Give it a few seconds, open your fist and give the command, followed by a lot of praise.
  • Once your dog has the fist method down, graduate to an open hand. You might have to close your hand at first, but she’ll soon learn not to grab it until permission is granted. Again, none of this will happen overnight; just be persistent.
teaching a dog to leaveoit

Leave It

If you’ve conquered the “take it” lesson, congratulations. Between work and kids and still trying to find toilet paper at the store, you’ve taught your dog to have impulse control. He can wait for your say-so to snatch the treat. Now it’s time to advance from your hand to the world at large. Your pup has already proven receptive to the concept, so you’re halfway there.

  • Cover a treat on the ground and allow your dog to give it a go, just like how you started the “take it” training. When she stops, praise her and provide an even better treat, NOT the one on the ground. She needs to now understand that the original treat is off limits, and ignoring it will reap rewards.
  • When your dog catches on, keep the treat uncovered and say, “leave it.” If he’s hesitant or ignores it, shower him with praise and a better treat. You might have to quickly cover it again as he’s learning, but just stick with it.
  • When you reach the point where your dog is consistently ignoring the treat on the ground, understanding that a better reward awaits, you’re ready for some “in the field” training.

On the Leash

Take your dog outside and drop some treats on the ground, saying “leave it” when he shows interest. If he persists, gently tug him away and repeat the command. When he starts to ignore them, provide a better treat, just like you did earlier in the training. Through positive reinforcement, he’s learning to ignore things on the ground and the “leave it” command reinforces that you’re the one who decides what’s allowed.

In big cities with an abundance of human traffic, sidewalks and grassy areas are just teeming with hazards. Teaching your dog to ignore the gum and chocolate wrapper and other nastiness on the ground will be one less headache in your life and, of course, keep your four-legged family member safe.

An Expert’s Opinion

I talked with Kate Naito, professional dog trainer and award-winning author of two books, about the importance of “leave it” training.

“Leave it” is a great behavior to teach dogs, but it takes time and lots of practice to teach properly. It’s natural for dogs to see a piece of trash or maybe the neighbor’s cat, and then immediately go for it without thinking.”

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Is There a Wrong Approach?

“The mistake is to think, My dog loves to pick up chicken bones on the street, so I’m going to just say ‘leave it’ when he goes for a chicken bone and pull him away. While some dogs may learn this pattern, it’s not really teaching the dog impulse control.”

In addition to “leave it” training, you may need to teach your new dog other lessons, such as housetraining. If you’re searching for a new best friend, check out our Dog Breed Search page to learn more about specific breeds and traits. If you know exactly what you’re looking for, head to our Adopt a Dog page and find that perfect companion. With almost 200 recognized breeds (and countless shelter dogs), a perfect match is just a click or two away.

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