Daisy’s dog walker was desperate when she called me. “I love Daisy,” she said, “but I can’t stop her from chasing joggers and bikers.”
For Daisy, chasing a moving target was all in good fun. It was more than fun, it was instinct. As a border collie, Daisy was just doing a job she was genetically hardwired to do! Unfortunately for city-dog Daisy, humans, no matter how fast they are moving, are not farm animals and her walker was at her wit’s end.
For a dog that chases moving objects, a standard recall, even a strong one, may not be helpful. “Come” has one meaning to a dog, “come back to me!.” It doesn’t communicate the most crucial information that a dog in hot pursuit of fun might need: “leave that thing alone!”
There is a cue, though, that does the job and does it well: “Leave it!”ADVERTISEMENT
There is a cue, though, that does the job and does it well: “Leave it!”
“Leave it” is one of the most valuable cues to teach a dog, and one of my favorites to train. It means not only leave alone that gross thing on the sidewalk or that approaching pup; a strong “leave-it” acts like a superman-level recall for a dog that loves to chase.
How to build your own super-strength “Leave It” by grade level
Kindergarten: Start with a treat under the toe of your shoe (make sure your dog can’t snatch it). Let your dog sniff, lick and paw the toe of your shoe. Patiently wait until they get bored and give up.
The moment they turn away from your shoe, mark it with a word (“YES”) or clicker and reward your dog with a treat from your hand—never the treat you’ve just asked them to leave alone. Repeat 5 times.
Next, add your cue. Say “Leave it!” firmly when your dog first notices the treat under your toe. Reward them from your hand when they turn away. Repeat 5 times.
1st Grade: Put a treat on the floor and hover your toe nearby. Immediately ask your dog to “leave it.” If they go for it, smash the treat with your toe. If he leaves it, reward with a treat from your hand. Repeat.
2nd Grade: Drop a treat from a few inches off the floor. Ask your dog to “leave it” as you drop. If they do, reward from your hand. If your dog doesn’t leave it, return to 1st grade.
3rd Grade: Gently roll a treat or toy behind you between your legs. Ask your dog to leave it right when you release the object. Mark and reward if your dog leaves it. Repeat.
4th Grade: Continue your 3rd grade exercise but exaggerate your movements, throwing the object farther, faster and in different directions. Repeat.
5th Grade: In advance (or with a friend), plant some interesting treats or toys along a common walking route. Walk by, asking your dog to leave each object and reward when they turn away. If this is too tough, start in a quiet location like a backyard. Repeat.
6th Grade: Start using your “leave it” on regular leashed walks. Try it first in quieter areas, asking your dog to “leave it” when you see anything interesting on the ground or approaching you. At this stage you want to always reward for your dog’s response to the cue. Work up to busier, more exciting walks.
The key is to ask your dog to “leave it” when they first notice and begin moving towards a target.
7th Grade: Try your leave it cue in a quiet off-leash area. You can try throwing a toy or simply ask your dog to leave alone things like other dogs and birds. The key is to ask your dog to “leave it” when they first notice and begin moving towards a target. If you say the cue too late (i.e., once your dog has gotten close to the target), your cue is less likely to work.
If your dog fails to respond, calmly leash them and stand still, holding them close to you for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Failure to respond to your cue results in temporary removal of your dog’s freedom.
High School: Try your “leave it” cue when your dog is off leash at a dog park or active off-leash area. Remember to say your cue when your dog first goes for something (not when they are fully in the middle of a chase) and to give them a short time out if they fail to respond.
Bottom line, you won’t regret teaching your dog this vitally important command. And it’s not as hard as it seems!