Teaching your dog the "leave it" and "drop it" commands can be incredibly useful for a variety of reasons. Having a dog that will reliably leave or drop items when asked provides you with more control, helps keep them safe, and makes training easier. Here are some of the top reasons to train these commands:
- Prevents your dog from ingesting harmful or toxic substances – If your dog gets ahold of something dangerous like medication or poisonous food, you need to be able to tell them to leave it or drop it immediately. These commands could save your dog's life.
- Avoids possession aggression – Some dogs will guard items or food aggressively. Being able to tell your dog to leave it or drop something helps avoid situations that trigger resource guarding.
- Allows you to take prohibited or dangerous items away – Your dog may pick up glass, sharp objects, cigarettes, socks, underwear, or other items you don't want them to have. Leave it and drop it commands let you safely retrieve these objects.
- Stops destructive chewing of household items – Puppies and untrained dogs may be inclined to chew on furniture, shoes, children's toys, etc. Having good leave it and drop it skills helps keep your belongings intact.
- Aids in teaching impulse control – Learning to leave tempting items alone and letting go of prized possessions teaches dogs self-control. This is an important aspect of good manners and behavior.
- Makes vet visits less stressful – Vets often need dogs to drop or leave items so they can examine the mouth or take something potentially hazardous away. Dogs who know these cues make exams much easier.
- Allows you to interrupt potentially problematic behaviors – If your dog is barking at the door, chasing the cat, or doing something else undesirable, you can use leave it or drop it to disrupt the behavior.
- Foundational skills for advanced training – Leave it and drop it are early building blocks for more complex training. They help establish you as the leader and are needed for dog sports like obedience, agility, and more.
In short, teaching your dog how to reliably leave items alone or let go of objects they pick up makes life with your dog smoother, safer, and more pleasant for everyone. The effort put into training these commands pays off on a daily basis.
How to Teach Leave It
The leave it command tells your dog to not touch or take an item and is extremely useful for directing your dog away from dangerous, unwanted, or tempting objects. Follow these steps to teach it:
- Hold a treat in your closed hand and let your dog sniff it. Keep your hand closed so they cannot get to the treat. Praise and reward with a different treat from your other hand the moment they stop trying to get the first treat and lose interest.
- Repeat this many times, using different treats and both hands, until your dog consistently stops trying to get the treat fairly quickly.
- Once your dog understands step 1 reliably, add in the verbal cue "leave it" as soon as they look away from the closed first. Continue to reward with a treat from the other hand.
- When your dog has the idea, up the challenge by holding an irresistible treat in your open palm. Close your hand the moment they go for it and say leave it. Praise and reward if they back off.
- Increase difficulty by holding the treat in your open hand and saying leave it before they go for it. Reward sooner at first, then gradually extend the time between the cue and reward.
- Practice with food on the floor, on a table, or in other locations. Say leave it before they get to it and reward them for not touching it. Increase distance over time.
- Once your dog understands leave it in low distraction environments, practice it when they are more excited like when playing or when real-life temptations appear. Always reward success!
Going slowly, being consistent, and rewarding your dog for disengaging from items will teach them over time that leaving objects alone earns them something even better. Be patient, try again if your dog struggles with a step, and use very high value treats to keep them engaged and motivated to listen.
How to Teach Drop It
The drop it command teaches your dog to release an item they have in their possession and is extremely useful for retrieving potentially dangerous or prohibited objects from your dog's mouth. Follow these steps:
- Hold a treat in your hand and close your fist around it. Let your dog lick and paw at your hand. The moment they stop trying, click a clicker or say "yes!" and give them a treat from your other hand.
- Repeat until your dog reliably stops pawing quickly. Then add the verbal cue "drop it" the moment they pause their pawing.
- Up the challenge by giving your dog a low value item like a toy or chew. Say drop it and exchange for a very high value treat when they release it.
- Swap for progressively higher value treats so your dog learns relinquishing an item results in getting something even better.
- Over many repetitions, gradually delay giving the reward until 1-2 seconds after they drop the item. This teaches patience.
- Increase difficulty by having your dog fetch an item then asking them to drop it when they return to you.
- Practice with items they love to strengthen the behavior. Give tons of praise when they drop coveted items.
- Once your dog understands drop it, add distractions like other toys, activity, or real-life situations. Reward generously when they comply despite distractions.
Exchanging items teaches dogs giving something up results in good things rather than taking something away. Go at your dog's pace, use high value rewards, and positively reinforce generously. With enough consistency, your dog will learn to readily give you any object when asked.
Important Tips for Training Leave It and Drop It
Teaching your dog these invaluable behaviors takes time and patience. Here are some top tips for training leave it and drop it successfully:
- Always reward success! Give your dog a jackpot of small treats when they correctly leave or drop an item so they really want to comply again.
- Use extremely high value, irresistible treats like small pieces of cheese, meat, or hot dog. This captures your dog's attention and motivation.
- Gradually increase difficulty in steps. Move to the next level only when your dog consistently offers the desired behavior at the current step.
- Keep training sessions short and upbeat. End on a positive note before your dog gets bored, tired, or frustrated.
- Practice in low distraction environments first. Proof the behaviors before adding difficulty like other pets, toys, food nearby, etc.
- Say the cue before your dog takes/grabs the item so they learn to avoid or leave it altogether.
- Never punish growling over items. This can lead to aggression. Use force-free positive reinforcement training instead.
- If your dog struggles, return to an easier step for a while to rebuild confidence and understanding.
- Be consistent and persistent. Regular short sessions will get the behaviors to stick over time.
- Phase out food rewards eventually. After compliance is fluent, give treats intermittently to maintain the behaviors.
Training leave it and drop it takes daily repetition, patience, and persistence, but the investment is well worth it for the safety, control, and convenience these cues provide. With the right approach and incentives, you can teach your dog to reliably resist temptation and let go when asked.
Common Problems When Training Leave It and Drop It
Teaching dogs to leave items alone and relinquish objects can present some challenges. Here are some common problems and how to fix them:
Grabbing objects too quickly – If your dog is so eager to get items they gobble them up before you can react, attach a leash so you can easily block access. Practice saying leave it the moment before they would normally grab.
Refusing to give up prized possessions – High value trades, prolonged rewards for releasing the item, and practicing with the most coveted objects will eventually teach a stubborn dog to comply.
Forgetting the behaviors in real life – Ensure you proof leave it and drop it in all contexts after initial training. Carry treats when out so you can reinforce in real situations.
Difficulty with duration – Slowly extend how long your dog must leave or hold an item after the cue. Reward sporadically at first, then for longer periods of leave it and drop it.
Getting frustrated – Keep sessions short and upbeat. Make sure you are rewarding frequently enough for the level of challenge so your dog enjoys training and wants to participate.
Breaking the position to grab objects – Revisit stay training so your dog learns moving from a spot or position means rewards stop. Practice leave it and drop it from stationary positions like sit, down, etc.
Picking up and swallowing dangerous items – Exchange for a high value treat lure when possible. Otherwise, immediately open their mouth and sweep it with your fingers to remove the item.
Troubleshooting challenges requires understanding the root cause and adjusting your approach. Remain upbeat, go back to basics if needed, get the behaviors on cue in easy contexts first, and keep it fun! With persistence, your dog will learn to have excellent leave it and drop it skills.
Proofing Leave It and Drop It
Once your dog understands these cues in a quiet room with few distractions, it's time to proof them. Proofing means practicing the behaviors in different, more challenging scenarios, until your dog complies reliably regardless of the environment or circumstance.
Here are some ways to proof leave it and drop it:
- Have family members or friends give the cues
- Practice with various items like food, toys, garbage, clothing, etc.
- Try in different locations – outdoors, at friends' houses, pet stores, on walks
- Add distractions – other pets, toys, noises, activity, dropped food, etc.
- Give the cue when your dog is stimulated – playing, chewing a bone, focused on something
- Wait longer between the cue and reward over time
- Increase distance – leave it from across the room, drop from 20 feet away
- Try with longer durations – leave for 2 minutes, hold item in mouth for 30 seconds before drop
- Use real life situations – doorbell, unattended food/trash, greeting people, other dogs
The more scenarios you practice leave it and drop it in, the better your dog will become about complying despite environmental factors and distractions. Go back to previous steps if they struggle, and always reward success generously.
Using Leave It and Drop It Correctly
Once your dog understands these behaviors, be thoughtful about how you employ them to communicate clearly and reinforce the right behaviors:
- Use a clear, consistent verbal and visual cue -say "leave it" and sweeping gesture away from the item
- Give the cue before your dog grabs an item to prevent self-rewarding
- Do not repeat it over and over – say once then block access or lure away if needed
- Reward not touching the item – don't wait until they leave if already investigating
- Apply leave it to anything you don't want your dog to touch or eat
- Use it to interrupt or prevent undesirable behavior like jumping, nipping, etc.
- Say "drop it" and show a treat to trade items out of your dog's mouth
- Avoid chasing your dog or tugging objects from their mouth
- Provide a high value reward when they release the item into your hand
- Use it for items you need to take away from your dog
- Practice trading up with toys and safe items so they learn giving gets them something better
- Don't use it for playful keep away games which teaches the opposite
Being thoughtful about how and when you apply leave it vs drop it will help your dog really grasp the difference between these two invaluable skills.
Real World Applications for Leave It and Drop It
Once mastered, leave it and drop it give you valuable real world tools for keeping your dog safe and out of trouble. Here are some examples:
- Prevent eating dangerous food dropped on the sidewalk like chicken bones
- Leave garbage alone on walks, hikes, or at the park
- Avoid ingesting toxic substances that could poison them
- Interrupt chasing squirrels, cats, etc. across streets
- Manage reactivity and barking by leaving triggers alone
- Diffuse resource guarding over stolen items, toys, or treats
- Retrieve and drop hazardous chewed up objects like wood splinters
- Spit out critters or creepy crawlies picked up in their mouth
- Stop destroying or eating household objects when unsupervised
- Allow removal of prohibited contraband they acquire like food wrappers
- End play with other dogs by leaving their leash or toy when asked
The benefits of a dog who leaves alone and relinquishes items asked extend to nearly any everyday situation. A dog with these skills becomes much more pleasant, safe, and easy to handle. Continue reinforcing leave it and drop it consistently so these commands remain strong lifelong behaviors.
Maintaining Leave It and Drop It
Once your dog understands these cues, you still need to maintain them through ongoing reinforcement. Here are some tips for keeping leave it and drop it skills reliable:
- Use them in daily life and reward with praise or treats sometimes
- Occasionally practice short refreshers in training sessions
- Reward real world successes like leaving food on the sidewalk
- Don't overuse the cues or say without follow through
- Keep it positive – never punish your dog when practicing leave it or drop it
- Increase criteria by gradually asking for longer durations
- If your dog starts to regress, go back to basics and rebuild the behaviors
- Prevent rehearsing of bad habits like chewing inappropriate items
- Trade up for stolen items so your dog wants to relinquish those
- Stay alert and proactively interrupt with leave it when needed
Consistency and patience are key to maintaining these skills long-term. Make sure to periodically refresh and reinforce successful responses so leave it and drop it remain fluent behaviors your dog is happy to comply with.
Teaching your dog to reliably leave items alone and drop items on cue provides invaluable real world skills that make training and living together smoother. Preventing your dog from ingesting dangerous or prohibited items and empowering you to easily take objects from their mouth helps keep them safe while enhancing control. While initially time-consuming to teach, practicing and reinforcing leave it and drop it consistently ensures these behaviors become ingrained over time. The resulting well-mannered, obedient dog who resists temptation and relinquishes items makes the effort well worth it. With the right approach and commitment, you can teach even the most stubborn dog to leave it and drop it when you ask.