Teach Your Dog to "Leave It"

Teach your Shih Tzu the "leave it" command.

By Janice Jones     |Last Updated 02-10-2020

The "Leave it" command is an important skill to teach a puppy or dog because their survival, if not their health could be compromised it this command is not learned and practiced regularly.

This command teaches a dog to refrain from picking up an object or food item off of the floor or ground.  Dogs are scavengers and enjoy nothing better than a stroll that also includes their version of delectable treats they find along the path—all free and there for the taking.

Since you have no control over litter on the sidewalk, you need a way to teach your dog from taking and presumably eating everything they think is edible.  Their definition of edible is not necessarily yours.  Dogs consider anything on the floor fair game, even if you inadvertently dropped something you didn’t want your dog to have.

When your dog masters this command, you will feel safe in knowing that they are not likely to pick up something toxic or non-replaceable.

You will Need:
Treats (Large and Small):  Choose ones you know your dog loves
Leash and Harness
Clicker (Optional)

The Procedure

Follow the steps in the order written, but not all at once.  Practice one at a time and then move on to the next.

A short 10 minute training session is more effective than trying to keep your dog's attention for longer periods of time.  Keep your training session short and stress-free for your dog. Dog or Puppy Training should be fun for you and your dog.

Some people prefer to use a clicker to “mark” the behavior.  In the directions below, we are using the word, “Yes” to mark the behavior.  Feel free to experiment with what works best for you: (1) “Yes” only, (2) Clicker only, or (3) Clicker and “yes” used together.

Teaching Steps

From Your Hand

  1. You should have tasty treats that your dog loves.  Place a treat in your fist.  Wait until your dog stops licking, sniffing or pawing at your hand, then say, “yes,” and give a treat (preferably from your other hand). Repeat many times until your dog consistently looks up at you for the treat.

  2. Next, introduce the prompt.  Say “Leave it” in a firm but friendly tone of voice as you hold the treat in your fist.  Your dog may sniff your hand or try to get the treat using a paw.  If the dog gives up and looks at you, immediately say, “yes, leave it,” and give him the treat in your other hand. Repeat about 4 times. The next time you do the exercise do not say anything.  Allow him to have the treat.  This last step teaches the dog that they only need to “leave it” if they hear those words.

  3. Next, repeat the process just outlined above but wait for your dog to look at you before you say, “yes” and treat. You can delay saying, “yes” to give the dog a chance to look at you for a longer period of time.

From the Floor

The next part of the exercise is to teach your dog to “leave it” when a treat is placed on the floor. Again you will want two treats, one to be placed on the floor and the other in your hand.

  • Place the treat on the floor with your hand holding it down, and say, “leave it.”  When he looks up at you, then say, “yes” and treat.  Repeat several times until your dog reliably looks up at you when you say, “leave it.”

  • Repeat again without holding the treat down with your hand.

  • Never give the treat left on the floor.  This will just confuse the dog.  (First you say leave it, then you let him have it?)

Use the Command on a Walk

  1. The final part of the training teaches your dog to avoid forbidden things while on a walk.  To do this, you will need to connect a leash to your dog’s harness or collar.  Place some larger treats along a predetermined path that you will walk with your dog.  It can be outdoors or in your home.  Place some tasty treats in your hand. 

  2. Begin with a “let’s go” command or whichever words you use when taking a walk.  When your dog nears a treat, say “leave it.”  If he looks up at you instead of taking the treat, immediately say, “Yes” and treat.  Your dog is likely to get a few of the treats scattered along the path, but don’t give up.  Continue to repeat this exercise until your dog can pass by each treat without attempting to grab it.  Continue to use the words, “yes” and treat. 

  3. As you are out and about with your dog, remember to use this important command.  When your dog does encounter a forbidden object or food, use the words, “leave it,” and treat.

  4. Eventually you will be able to wean him away from a treat every time, but you will still want to treat intermittently so the dog is never sure when he will be treated. 

Come   |     Sit     |     Down     |     Stay     |Walk on a Leash

About Janice

Janice is the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu. Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, she served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu.

When not writing, reading, or researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, her husband, and her family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Small Dog Place and Smart-Knit-Crocheting.