If your dog is heading towards something that they want but you know they shouldn’t have, don’t chase or get angry with them. At best they’ll think it’s a fun game and they’ll just make sure to move quicker next time.
If you haven’t got a good “leave” yet you can try a recall instead, if they have managed to get hold of something a drop may be more appropriate. If you don’t think your dog will respond to these try to distract your dog by making yourself more interesting. Run in the other direction, throw treats on the ground, anything to get their attention on you.
If your dog does leave something really exciting out on a walk, like food or wildlife, they deserve a similarly exciting reward. Unlike a recall, the goal of leave isn’t for your dog to always come back to you, so this means you have more options for toy or game rewards. Try and do something your dog loves!
In this guide a “leave” refers to asking a dog to stop moving towards something you don’t want them to have. This is different to a “drop” which you would use once your dog already has something in their mouth.
Training a leave is useful for:
- When your dog is heading towards something you don’t want them to have
- Building your dog’s self-control
You can start training a leave anywhere as long as you have both your hands free (you can adapt this to using your foot, but hands are easier), so you can even do it sitting on the sofa.
In one hand – the “bait” hand – you will have something that your dog wants but isn’t going to get. You then need a second type of reward that they will get. It is easiest to use food to train a leave, but you could use a toy for your reward if your dog is more motivated by toys. The most important thing is that the “bait” is small enough that you can close your hand fully around it. To start with use something fairly boring, like some dry food, and have a nice, tasty treat for the reward.
Show your dog the piece of food in your open hand being ready to close your hand as soon as they move towards it.
Allow them to sniff your closed hand if they choose to and as soon as they pause or move away even slightly say good and reward them, moving the closed hand away.
Keep repeating this step and your dog should start to ignore the open hand, waiting for the treat instead.
Start attaching your cue once your dog is reliably ignoring the bait hand, when you open your hand say “leave” and then reward as usual.
Increase the difficulty by keeping your hand open for longer before rewarding, then by putting the food on the floor or somewhere both you and your dog can reach so it is tempting but you can cover it as soon as they move towards it.
Once your dog is reliably leaving the more boring bait food, you can start using slightly more tempting foods and practice with this as well. Be ready to take it back a couple of steps as your dog may well find this more difficult!
You can now start practising out on walks, setting up a few easy practise goes and then trying it out for real. Make sure you give your dog some really big, high value rewards when they do a successful leave as this is a hard thing for most dogs.