“Leave it” is a behavior to teach the dog to do just that, leave it. I use this behavior most often when we are on a walk and my dog discovers a dead frog, old stick, a piece of garbage or whatever else may be around. This is also a necessary behavior for a therapy dog to know since they may be in a situation where there is spilled medication on the floor that would be harmful to the dog if they ate it.
When I tell my dog to “leave it”, I am looking for my dog to turn her attention away from the object and retreat from it returning to me. Okay, so to set up this exercise, you will need some yummy treats and your dog on a leash. Put some treats on the floor at a distance from you and your dog. Keep some treats in your pouch as well so that your dog will be rewarded from you as they retreat from the food on the floor. The number one rule of “leave it” is NEVER let your dog get the object you are working “leave it” away from. If your dog gets the food or object, it will be so much harder to get him to leave it the next time.
Begin walking toward the treats on the floor and wait for your dog to notice (if they haven’t already). As your dog gets close to the food, give the “leave it” command. At this point, your dog will probably ignore you. At this point, you will need to give a slight pop on the leash. I do not want you to jerk the leash hard and I don’t want you to drag your dog to you away from the object. The point of this behavior is for your dog to make the conscious decision to leave it on their own. Therefore, our leash correction will be repetitive and annoying but not harmful. I like to call it “machine gun” correction. The correction should be a fast pop on the leash and release, pop on the leash, release while saying “leave it” with each pop. Make sure you are releasing the tension in the leash between each pop so that you aren’t dragging the dog toward you. Our goal is to become annoying to the dog until finally, the dog looks at us like “what do you want?!?” When that happens, say “good leave it” and reward the dog for returning to you with a treat from your stash. If you find your dog is ignoring your leash pops, try stepping a couple of steps back away from the food and continue your rapid fire corrections until your dog responds. Distance is always your friend in this exercise. The further away you are from the object or food, the easier it will be to be successful with your dog.
Once your dog has the concept down, you can work circles around the food with your dog on the inside, closest to the food and practice “leave it” here. This exercise looks different to the dog but will be more similar to a real life “leave it” situation. Remember to continue rewarding your dog as he moves away from the food and returns to you. Practice any chance you get since there will always be new, exciting things your dog will want to investigate and possibly eat.
Pet stores are great places to practice but only when your dog fully understands the behavior and has practiced it in several other environments first. As with all other behaviors we teach, add distractions and distance slowly when the dog is successful numerous times in easier situations.