How to Teach Your Dog the ‘Leave It’ Command

The world is full of tempting things for your dog — an ice cream cone clutched in a toddler’s hand, a bowl of cat food on the kitchen floor, a nest of baby rabbits in the garden, an open bag of organic fertilizer on the patio. These are all things your dog would love to eat but shouldn’t because it would be bad manners, or sometimes dangerous.

One of the most important things you can do for your dog — and the world around him — is teach him the “leave it” command. With Halloween, Thanksgiving and the winter holidays looming on the calendar, now is a great time to perfect his response.

To teach your dog the “leave it” command, you need two types of delicious treats — it helps if one type is something sturdy, like a chunk of freeze-dried liver or dried sausage. Hold up one type of treat (the durable one), let him get a good sniff of it, and then put it under your shoe. We’ll call this treat #1.

Your dog will paw, dig and lick at your foot, trying desperately to get at treat #1; whatever you do, don’t let him have it. The very second he looks away, say a cue word like “yes!” and then give him treat #2 from  your hand. Repeat this process a few times.

Now you’re ready to add in the “leave it” part of the command. Put treat #1 under your shoe and say, “Leave it!” As you did before, when he looks away, say your cue word and then reward him with treat #2.

A couple of training notes:

Two types of treats are important here because you don’t want to reward your dog with the same kind of treat you are trying to keep them from eating. That’s confusing.

Also, only say “leave it” once when you put the treat under your shoe. Repeating commands can be confusing and annoying for your dog — this is also true for people; you probably wouldn’t appreciate your boss standing over you, yelling, “Email! Email! Email!”

When your dog is a pro at ignoring the treat under your shoe — and for most dogs, it won’t take too long — then you can make the exercise harder. You can set the treat on the floor by your shoe instead of under it. Then you can place the treat farther away from your foot. You can drop the treat on the floor. You can roll the treat behind you. You can toss the treat across the room. Then, you can move your training sessions outside and hide treats and toys in your yard. After practicing that for a bit, you can start practicing “leave it” on walks, first in quiet areas and then in busier, more exciting areas.

It is critical to note that you should never give treat #1 to your dog, the one you said to leave alone. You can save it for another time, but do not let him have it right away.  In a real-life situation if you need your dog to “leave it” you likely wouldn’t want him to think it’s ever ok to have that item.

With some time and effort, by the time the food- and toy-filled holidays of the year arrive, you’ll be able to keep your dog from diving into the candy bowl and you’ll be able to relax and enjoy all your holiday get-togethers.

Of course, if you need more help, our trainers at PetU are here for you. For more information, visit us at