Puppy playing with green toy

Puppy training 101: Leave

The cue ‘Leave’ is another one of the important fundamental skills we teach our puppies. It is basically teaching your puppy that if you come away from whatever you are doing, you will be rewarded. The Leave cue is for situations like dropping medicine on the floor, accidentally leaving chocolate in sniffing range, passing something smelly but delectable to your dog, and passing livestock or other animals.

You can teach your puppy to Leave by following these easy steps, (before you start make sure you have plenty of tasty morsels and a few dry dog biscuits).

1. Start this exercise indoors with your pup off lead. Have the tasty treats close by but out of sight and reach of your puppy. Put your less enticing dog biscuit in the palm of your hand and show it to your puppy. If your puppy goes to grab it, close your hand (do not pull your hand back as that will encourage your puppy to chase).

2. Your pup may nibble and paw at your hand but will eventually give up and look away, as soon as this occurs say ‘good’, praise your puppy and give him a tasty treat.

3. Repeat this until your puppy stops going for the biscuit altogether and you can show him your open palm with a biscuit on it without him being interested.

Teaching leave

4. Then, move the biscuit to the floor and start the process again. If your pup goes for the biscuit, cover it with your hand. When he is consistently leaving the biscuit without you needing to cover it, move to your feet and start again, this time covering the biscuit with your foot if your puppy goes for it. This will teach him that it doesn’t matter what position you are in; he still needs to leave the biscuit to get the reward.

5. Now, time to change your puppy’s position. If he’s consistently standing for this exercise, ask him to do it in the sit or down position. He needs to learn that no matter what position he’s in and what position you are in, the only way that he gets the reward is to leave the biscuit alone.

6. Puppies are smart so make sure you vary the position of the biscuit and vary the hand the treats are coming from. If you don’t, he will start to predict what’s happening and won’t respond correctly later if it doesn’t happen in the way he thinks it should.

7. When you are 100% sure your pup understands that not taking the biscuit is what gets him the tasty treat, you can introduce the cue word “Leave”.

8. You can use other words if you prefer, however, do not use the word “no”. This is because if your puppy is like most puppies he already hears that enough and it has probably already become white noise to him!

9. Hold the boring biscuit in your hand and say “Leave”, place it in front of your puppy, if he leaves it, give him a few tasty treats so he knows he’s got it right!

10. Repeat this regularly and make sure you reward him something tasty every time.

Golden rule of leave: NEVER let your dog have what you have asked him to leave, that is just a Wait and will only result in your dog hesitating before he gobbles up your sandwiches.

So, there you have your basic Leave. Brilliant, but unfortunately in the real world almost everything your dog wants will be more enticing than dry dog biscuit and possibly a lot faster too. So we need to up our game…

Taking Leave to the next level

1. Swap your sad old biscuit for more delectable foods – remember you may need to take it back a few steps while your dog gets the hang of leaving yummier foods. Your reward and what you’re asking your pup to leave cannot be the same thing e.g. not both chicken, it will just make him confused.

2. When your pup’s leaving every tasty thing you ask him to, we need to move him on to quite literally leaving everything you throw at him!

3. Ok, so not quite throw but roll close to him. He needs to get used to leaving moving things so rolling food past him is great for this. Again, it’s something new so be prepared to cover the food with your shoe in case rolling morsels are all too tempting (and maybe avoid doing this on a new carpet!).

4. When your pup is successfully leaving food that’s on the move, we need to change the variables again. He needs to learn to leave things when he’s on the move.

5. To do this, grab your trusty biscuit and place it on the floor and walk your pup past it. If he even glances in its direction use your ‘Leave’ cue.

6. If he looks away or even just keeps on walking say ‘Good’ and reward him.

7. Repeat this, increasing the difficulty by replacing the trusty biscuit with more tasty food and toys. If you can find a helper, get them to roll food as you are walking as well, that would really help.

8. When your pup is successfully “leaving” all of these enticing things, you have proofed your “Leave” in the house.

Now you are ready to take it outside. But remember to take it slow. Don’t be disheartened if your pup dives after the neighbour’s cat, just take it back to basics outside and build up from your trusty biscuit again. Repetition is really important with Leave, you want it to become second nature to your dog so that as soon as he hears the word ‘Leave’, he comes to you for his reward regardless of whatever else is going on.

FAQs for teaching Leave

My pup doesn’t care about food

Try using toys instead and reward him with a fun game (not with the leave toy, that needs to stay on the floor).

My pup will leave the biscuit but nothing else

Increase the distance between the leave item and your pup and slowly bring it closer or try something slightly less tasty.

My pup is eating everything!

Make sure he is not really hungry, if he hasn’t eaten, even the biscuit might be too much to resist.

My pup can’t get past the rolling food

Try rolling it slower or further away from your puppy and gradually increase the speed, or decrease the distance from your puppy.

My puppy is just obsessed with his toy and won’t leave it

Try teaching this with a new toy – or a boring toy he never plays with – so he’s never building up a play association with it. When he’s learnt the basics of Leave, you can build up to better toys.

Try these puppy training treats

These grain-free, natural treats are perfect for motivating your puppy while he is training. Order now from We Love Nutrition.