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Hanford Veterinary Hospital Blog

Life-Saving Tricks: The “Leave It” Command

A human teaches a dog the leave it command

Teaching your pet tricks and commands can be a lot of fun and definitely enhances the human-animal bond. At Hanford Veterinary Hospital we have seen some of this education pay off in a big way for pet owners, though. Did you realize that teaching things like the “leave it” command could actually save your pet’s life?

Why the Leave It Command?

Imagine this: Your dog is waiting patiently for you to finish taking your medication so he can get his evening dental chew. As you grab your pills, one slips and drops to the ground, right in front of your dog’s nose. What self-respecting pooch doesn’t follow the “taste first, ask questions” later model? A medication ingestion could potentially be a life-threatening and costly emergency.

What if, though, you could simply tell your dog to “leave it” and ignore the pill, awaiting further instruction from you? Teaching your pet the leave it command has the potential to intervene in the moment before you can physically, which can prevent your pet from harm in many situations. 

You Catch More Flies With Honey

When training an animal to do something, positive reinforcement is well understood to have the best results and most lasting effects. Positive reinforcement means rewarding your pet for doing something rather than punishing him or her for not. 

To teach your dog the leave it command, break things down into smaller steps.

  1. Start by holding something tasty in your hands. 
  2. Put it in front of your dog’s nose.
  3. Allow your dog to look at, smell, and investigate it.
  4. Do not allow your dog to have the treat until they stop paying attention to it, even for a split second.
  5. When your dog consistently knows to move their head away to get the treat, start saying “leave it” as they move away.
  6. Once this is solid, offer a treat in your open palm, and use the “leave it” command.
  7. Reward your dog with a treat from the other hand if they leave the first treat (do not allow them to grab the treat in your palm). 
  8. Once your pet is doing this reliably, increase the difficulty—use a treat on the table, from another person, or on the floor as you walk past.

By rewarding your pet for choosing to leave it, you are strengthening the reliability of the command. Remember, if you become frustrated that your dog isn’t “getting it” during training that means your dog is probably frustrated too. Take a break and circle back later!

Putting the Leave It Command to Work

Teaching your pet the leave it command and working on it often is a great way to ensure your pet’s safety. When the command is solid, you can use it in many situations. 

Some great examples include:

  • To interrupt an encounter with a wild animal 
  • To stop your pet from approaching a rattlesnake
  • To stop your dog from ingesting something like a sock that could necessitate a pet surgery to remove
  • To intervene if your dog is interested in eating something potentially harmful
  • To prevent weight gain from ingestion of dropped food (useful in homes with small children
  • To interrupt your dog from approaching something like a bicycle, car, or other pet

Remember, you need to reward your pet consistently to make sure they remember that ditching that tempting item was worth it. A little self control is a good thing to have, even if you are a dog.

If you need help training your pet, our veterinary services including behavioral counseling from one of our knowledgeable staff. Don’t hesitate to ask for help, we are here for you no matter what you need. 

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