How To: Train Your Dog to Leave It!

Elan Mansur

The “Leave It” command protects you from having to deal with the nasty things your dog thinks are appropriate to pick up in his mouth and protects him from potentially dangerous nonedibles — or poisoned edibles. A strong “leave it” command can also act like a superman-level recall for a dog that loves to chase.

Depending on how quickly your pup catches on, you may want to practice this exercise over the course of several sessions. Keep the sessions short — no more than five minutes at a time. Here are 9 easy steps to train your dog the “leave it” command:

Step 1

Start with a tasty treat under the toe of your shoe (make sure your dog can’t snatch it). Let your dog sniff, lick and paw the toe of your shoe. Patiently wait until they get bored and give up. The moment they turn away from your shoe, mark it with a word (“YES”) or clicker and reward your dog with a treat from your open palm—never the treat you’ve just asked them to leave alone. Repeat this action until they do it with ease.

Next, add your cue. Make eye contact and say “Leave it!” firmly when your dog first notices the treat under your toe. Reward them with a treat from your hand when they turn away. Repeat several times.

Step 2 

Put a treat on the floor and hover your toe nearby. Immediately ask your dog to “leave it.” If they go for it, smash the treat with your toe. If he leaves it, reward with a treat from your open palm. Repeat.

Step 3

Drop a treat from a few inches off the floor. Ask your dog to “leave it” as you drop. If they do, reward from your hand. If your dog doesn’t leave it, return to step 2.

Step 4

Gently roll a treat or toy behind you between your legs. Ask your dog to leave it right when you release the object. Mark and reward if your dog leaves it. Repeat.


Step 5

Continue with the step 4 exercise but exaggerate your movements, throwing the object farther, faster and in different directions. Repeat.

Step 6

In advance (or with a friend), plant some interesting treats or toys along a common walking route. Walk by, asking your dog to leave each object and reward them when they turn away. If this is too tough, start in a quiet location like your garden. Repeat.


Step 7

Start using your “leave it” on regular leashed walks. Try it first in quieter areas, asking your dog to “leave it” when you see anything interesting on the ground or approaching you. At this stage, you want to always reward your dog for good behaviour. Work up to busier, more exciting walks.

The key is to ask your dog to “leave it” when they first notice and begin moving towards a target.

Step 8

Try your leave it cue in a quiet off-leash area. You can try throwing a toy or simply ask your dog to leave things like other dogs and birds. If you say the cue too late (i.e., once your dog has gotten close to the target), your cue is less likely to work.

If your dog fails to respond, calmly leash them and stand still, holding them close to you for 30 seconds to 1 minute. As a consequence, failing to respond to your cue should result in the temporary removal of your dog’s freedom.

Step 9

Try your “leave it” cue when your dog is off-leash at a dog park or active off-leash area. Remember to say your cue when your dog first goes for something (not when they’re in the middle of a chase) and to give them a short time out if they fail to respond.

You certainly won’t regret teaching your dog this vitally important command. Mastering the “leave it” command will help keep your dog (and whatever they’re chasing) safe and make your walks more relaxing and enjoyable.

And if you or your pup need a new collar or leash to help with the training, head over to to pick up some new kit!