Dog Training, Tips, Tricks, and Plenty of Good Advice

Teaching Your Puppy “Leave It”

What it means:

Get that little nose out of there.. away from my food… out of the trash can… etc

Verbal command – “Leave It!” or “Out!”
Tone of voice – Sharp, firm, demanding
Hand signal – none

During the teaching phase, a release command is also taught.

Verbal command – “OK!”
Tone of voice – Friendly, encouraging
Hand signal – none

Body Language:

When teaching this command, you can be either standing or sitting. For best results, your puppy should be in front of you, with a leash on. During the training stages of this command, it will be helpful to have someone else handling either the leash or the treat. It’s important that you radiate an air of relaxation and calm.

The Food Reward:

This command is taught with a treat. For best results, use a “people food” treat that can be cut into very small pieces. Chunks of cheese or chicken work well. Most importantly, the food must be something that smells really good, tastes really good, and does not in any way resemble treats you normally use for training. It should also be something that is easily and quickly eaten.

How to do it:

Best taught with two people. One person is in charge of handing out the treat. The other person is in charge of administering the correction. If you do this by yourself, hold the treat in one hand, and the leash in the other. Holding the treat firmly with your thumb and forefinger, hand the treat to the puppy, saying “OK!” as you do this, and when the puppy reaches for the treat, let him have it. Do this 3 or 4 times to get the puppy excited and interested in this new game of “free” food.

Now it’s time for the “Leave it!” or “Out” command. Do everything exactly the same way as you did the 3 or 4 times previously, hold the treat the same way, hand it toward your puppy the same way, BUT instead of saying “OK!” and letting the puppy have the treat, say “Leave it!” or “Out.” As you say the command, the person handling the leash simultaneously jerks the puppy back and away from the treat.

It’s best if the “Leave it!” command and the jerk of the leash happen at the same time. This will surprise and startle the puppy. Do not move your hand, the one holding the treat, or jerk it back. Leave it where it is and give your puppy a few seconds to decide what to do next. If the puppy goes in for the treat again, repeat the “Leave it!” and the jerk. If the puppy tries to run away, grab him and give him lots of hugs, kisses, love, belly rubs, and praise.

Now, repeat the procedure with the “OK!” 3 or 4 times. More if the puppy is hesitant to take the treat, less if the puppy is still determined to grab it. When the puppy is taking the treat with no hesitation, repeat the procedure with the “Leave it!” and the jerk on the leash.

If your puppy immediately backs away from the treat. Give lots of love and praise, and repeat the “OK!” procedure 3 or 4 times. If your puppy goes for the treat when you say the “Leave it” command. Repeat the “Leave it!” procedure again, only this time use a sharper jerk on the leash. A very determined puppy may have to practice the “Leave it” command several times in a row before he will willingly back off without a correction.

Do the commands as a series of 3 or 4 of the “OK!” commands followed by 1 or 2 of the “Leave it!” commands until your puppy is happily taking the treat with the “OK!” and not the least interested on the “Leave it!”

End the training session on a positive note with several “OK!” commands.

Do’s and Don’ts:

Do not allow your puppy to grab and eat the treat unless or until you have given the “OK!” If your puppy does manage to get the treat out of your hand, you will have to pry his mouth open and dig it out. If it is already swallowed, do this anyway – as if you are fully prepared to go in after it.

Do not jerk your hand back or away when you say “Leave It.” You don’t want your puppy to key into anything you might consistently do with your hand. You want your puppy to respond only to the verbal command, not a hand movement. Because of this, it’s very important that you hand and hold the treat exactly the same way for both the “Leave It” command and the “OK!” command.

The best time to teach this command is when your puppy is hungry.

When to Use this Command:

When your puppy has learned what “Leave it!” means, and is reliable off leash when working with a food in a controlled environment, you can begin to use it in every day practical situations. It will be really helpful if you set your puppy up with a series of temptations while on leash so that you can step in to correct if need be.

Use and enforce this command any time your puppy is interested in something they might want to eat (or sniff) that is inappropriate, or unacceptable. Examples include: The litter box, garbage can, ice cream cone in a toddler’s hand, a plate of snacks on the coffee table, rabbit poop… I’m sure you can think of a few more.

What your puppy learns:

It is never OK to grab food out of the hands of anyone without permission. Your position of authority is reinforced by the concept that you are in charge of what, and what is not, acceptable to grab and eat.

Written by: Shirley Gibson


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