“Leave” is a very important cue to teach your dog. Before you teach “leave”, you must decide what you want it to mean for your dog. Many people teach “leave” as a trick, allowing their dog to take what they are asking them to leave after waiting a few seconds or counting down. It can be beneficial when teaching “leave” to decide that your dog is never allowed to take what you are asking them to leave. You do not want your dog pre-empting that they may be allowed to take something you have asked them to leave as in most real life situations you will likely be asking them to leave something you do not want them to ever pick up for example, an accidentally dropped tablet of medication or something foul on a walk. The “leave” cue does not have to only apply to edible items, you can also use it to ask your dog to come away from people, other dogs and animals.
The easiest way to begin to teach “leave” is by teaching the dog to leave something low value in exchange for a much higher value reward. For example, you may start by asking them to leave a piece of dry dog kibble and reward them with a bit of sausage. Gradually as the dog understands the cue you must proof the behaviour by increasing the difficulty of the exercise, practising in different environments and asking the dog to leave a variety of items, including high value food (such as cheese, sausages, real meat).
When teaching leave, one of the most important things to remember is to NOT threaten or intimidate your dog into leaving the item. You can use a normal, happy voice to teach this behaviour and you will get a more reliable response as your dog will have learned on their own that it is far more beneficial to listen to you than to get the item you are asking them to leave, rather than still wanting the item but being frightened by you.
A simple way to introduce your dog to the concept of “leave” is by putting a low value treat on the flat of your hand and curling your hand up into a fist. Whilst you are sitting down, hold your first on your knee. Your dog will most likely begin to sniff and paw at your hand, trying to get to the treats inside. Allow your dog to do this and go through the motions without saying a word, they will soon realise that the treat is not accessible and will eventually back off. As soon as your dog gives up and pulls away from your hand, add the cue “leave” and give them a treat from your other hand. This is a beneficial exercise for all training with your dog, as if your dog is obsessed with the food in your hand it will take them longer to learn as they are not thinking about anything but food. Repeat until your dog is consistently pulling their head away from your hand.
When your dog is consistently backing off from your hand, raise the criteria of your training by expecting the dog to back away and stay away for increasing periods of time before you give them a reward. It is also desirable for the dog to back away from the item and make eye contact with you, so ensure you reward this. Practice with different treats and toys to gradually extend the period of time you can get your dog to leave for.
Realistically, many items we want our dogs to leave will be on the ground. Put a harness on your dog and attach their lead. Throw a treat to the ground just out of your dog’s reach. Your dog will attempt to reach the treat but will eventually realise they are unable to and will give up. The moment your dog backs off and the lead becomes loose, add the cue “leave” and reward your dog with treats. Practice this exercise as many times as possible, using a variety of toys, items and food. When your dog is very reliable at the behaviour you can cue the behaviour in advance (there is no point asking your dog to “leave” before they fully understand what it means, as if you ask them to “leave” and they do not respond, you will be teaching your dog to ignore the cue). When your dog is really good at this exercise, see if they can walk with you around the item on the floor without trying to take it and reward them highly for this. Generalise your “leave” cue by practising in as many different places and situations as possible.
If you need further help, check out our “leave” video! Happy training!