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How to Teach a Dog to Leave It: 5 Steps with Videos | Pupford

December 18th, 2023

Filed under Training

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Food dropped on the floor, your favorite pair of shoes, a child’s fluffy stuffed animal – sometimes we just need our dogs to leave things alone!

But how can we do that when these things are so enticing to our dogs and they tend to act on impulse?

Two words: Leave it.

When you teach your dog the “leave it” cue, the foundation is set for a number of other impulse control behaviors. But we know it’s easier said than done, like most things in dog training.

Whether you're training a new dog, an older one, or even a puppy, we put together this guide on how to teach leave it to your dog. We’ll cover:

  • Why the 'leave it' behavior matter
  • What you’ll need to get started
  • Example of how to teach your dog to “leave it”
  • Teaching the “leave it + look at me” combo
  • Additional impulse control resources

Let's get right into it. 👇


dog practicing leave it while on a walk | Pupford

Imagine you're on a leisurely afternoon walk with your dog when you spot something toxic to your dog on the sidewalk.

It could be chocolate, gum with xylitol, or even something dangerous like a needle.

If your dog struggles with impulse control, they could snatch the item and get extremely sick... or worse.

Now imagine that alternative, you tell your dog 'leave it' and they walk by the item without lunging to eat it.

Sounds amazing, right?!

Generally speaking, the value of teaching leave it to your dog is that you can help them stay safe AND you gain peace of mind.

Now that we know why it's important, let's look at the tools you'll need to teach this vital behavior.

🐶 Get started with our FREE 30 Day Perfect Pup Course to teach your dog leave it, work through leash training, and more! Get started here.


Before you start dog training, of any kind, you want to ensure you have the right tools. Keep in mind that these tools are ideal for dedicated training sessions, but you'll be practicing leave it all the time.

To teach “leave it,” the supplies you’ll need are pretty simple:

  • High-value training treats. Using positive reinforcement training is an effective (and enjoyable ) way to teach your dog any new behavior– but you’ll need a lot of rewards to do so. Be sure to choose a training reward that’s tasty and exciting, yet low in calories so you can practice, practice, practice!
  • A treat container and pouch. Any clear container (so your dog can see the treats) will do for the container (you’ll see why in just a minute). As for the pouch, you can check out our magnetic training treat pouch, just so you have a way to easily access treats.
  • An understanding of positive reinforcement training. Our goal throughout training is to reward our dog for what we want them to do, never punish them for doing the “wrong” thing. Take some time to read up on the science behind positive reinforcement training to give yourself a strong understanding of how your dog responds to training this way, and why. We recommend signing up for 30 Day Perfect Pup to nail the basics of dog training. Sign up for free here!
  • Patience. New behaviors, especially ones related to impulse control, require a lot of practice. Be ready to tackle this challenge long-term, and be prepared for setbacks along the way.

Once you have your treats, tools, and positive attitude gathered, you’re ready to tackle the “leave it” challenge. Let’s get to work!


There are a few different ways to teach “leave it.” First, let’s take a look at a really simple approach that uses a gradual progression to set your dog up for success.

  1. Place a large handful of your dog’s favorite training treats into a clear bowl. It’s important that the bowl is clear so your dog can see that the treats are there for a strong distraction. Make sure your dog's nose can smell them, too!
  2. Stand up and have your dog sit in front of you.
  3. Hold the bowl of treats out of your dog’s reach. Typically, standing up and holding them at about your waist level works, or out to the side. Reward and praise your dog every time they look at you instead of the treats. It doesn’t have to be strong eye contact that’s held for long – rewarding quick glances as soon they look at you will help your dog understand that’s what you’re looking for.
  4. Once your dog has multiple successful check-ins with you, you can lower the treat bowl closer to your dog. You can do this a few more times once your dog consistently succeeds at the previous height, until your dog chooses to make eye contact with you while the treat bowl is on the ground in front of them.
  5. Continue working towards the goal of being able to place the treat bowl down and take steps back, all while your dog looks at you.

As with all behaviors, it’s important to take it slow and make sure your dog masters one step before moving on to the next. Frequent rewards, multiple wins, and an overall positive experience are what we’re looking for here.

The leave it behavior can be a lifelong effort, remember that! And once your dog has it down you can start to incorporate a hand signal, like using a 'stop sign' like gesture.

Here's an extra video of how to teach leave it. You can also access this full series for free as part of the 14 Day Essential Training Course.


teach dog leave it and look at me combo

Not only do we want our dog to ignore the treats (or shoes, or dropped food, or squirrels in the yard etc.), but we want to encourage them to look at us instead.

Why do we love the “leave it + look at me” combo so much? It’s a great way to get your dog’s attention in difficult situations or when a lot of enticing distractions are around.

Get started with our FREE 30 Day Perfect Pup Course to teach your dog this combo, work through leash training, and more! Get started here.

What sets this apart from “leave it” is the addition of a verbal cue for “look at me.”

Since dogs learn by association, you’ll want to pair a cue word with their behaviors during training – in this case “leave it” and “look at me.” Say the designated phrase as soon as they display the associated behavior.

After a lot of repetition, treats, and praise, your dog will learn that when they hear “leave it,” they should not go near something, and “look at me” means to make eye contact with you.

Then you can flip the script, using the phrase to ask for the behavior you want to see. It may take a lot of repetition to get to that point but, once you do, you will be able to help your dog ignore distractions and focus on you when they need to.


As we mentioned before, “Leave it” is a great way to strengthen your puppy or dog’s impulse control – but it’s not the only way.

We recommend utilizing a combination of impulse control resources for best results, including:


dog learning to leave it with food on a counter | Pupford

Remember, impulses are natural and expected from our dogs.

Tools like “leave it” should be used to keep your dog safe, away from dangerous food, and prevent them from acting destructively, but you should still find plenty of opportunities to allow your dog to tap into their impulses in a productive way.

What has your dog’s experience with “leave it” been like during puppy training? Anything they just plain refuse to leave? Tell us about it in the comments!

🐶 Get started with our FREE 30 Day Perfect Pup Course to teach your dog leave it, work through leash training, and more! Get started here.


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