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Dog Obedience Training: Mastering the “Leave It” Cue


In both busy cities and peaceful countryside, dog obedience connects human expectations and canine behaviour. The “Leave It” cue is a key tool in dog training, helping us communicate with our dogs to ensure their safety and our peace of mind. For those that are interested in dog training, check out our guide to dog training in Singapore!

In this article, we’ll break down this important cue and give you practical techniques to strengthen your bond with your dog. For those looking to build on basic knowledge, check out our previous article, Essential Obedience Training Steps, which lays the groundwork for today’s discussion.

The “Leave It” Cue


At its core, the “Leave It” cue is a pillar of self-control and focus for your dog. Imagine a bustling dog park—children laughing, cyclists passing, and the occasional dropped snack on the ground. Here, the “Leave It” cue is crucial for keeping your dog safe during a walk, allowing you to stop your dog from interacting with potential hazards or distractions like food scraps or unknown substances. This ensures your dog leaves things that could be harmful out of their mouth, enhancing impulse control.

The “Leave It” cue is powerful because it creates clear communication between dog and handler. When practiced with a new puppy, this cue builds a partnership, helping your puppy show the right behaviour and strengthening your bond through mutual respect.

Here is a step-by-step guide to teach your dog this important cue.

Step 1: Wait for the Behaviour and Reward it Timely

Start by observing your dog’s behaviour closely. When your dog shows curiosity about an object but looks away or checks in with you instead, take note. Celebrate this decision with a quick and generous reward, connecting your dog’s natural instincts to the behaviours you want. These early rewards set the stage for a reliable response to your “Leave It” cue.

To spot precursors, watch for signs that your dog shows just before following a cue. Pay attention to their body language and eye movement. For more on the science behind this training, check out our article on operant conditioning.

While training, pay attention to your dog’s wellbeing. Look for signs of stress or fatigue, and keep training sessions enjoyable. For more on how emotions affect learning, check out our guide on classical conditioning.

Step 2: Shape the Behaviour

To teach your dog to leave an object, start by introducing something your dog likes, like a treat or a toy. Watch your dog’s reaction. When the dog looks at the object of interest, closely monitor for the moment they look away. Use a hand gesture or another target to redirect their attention. When the dog looks away from the object, immediately reward them with a higher value treat. This reinforces the desired outcome of the “leave it” cue. Practice this regularly to ensure the behaviour is well-learned.

Step 3: Add a Cue

With the foundation set, introduce a verbal cue. While using the lure, say “Leave It.” This phrase should come before the desired behaviour to trigger your dog’s attention shift. Repeatedly using and reinforcing “Leave It” will help teach your dog to respond to the cue.

Step 4: Remove the Lure

As your dog becomes consistent, start phasing out the physical lure. Keep the same procedure: Show the item of interest, but now use only your verbal cue, which is “leave it”. Be patient; give your dog time to learn that the cue requires a specific behavior—looking away. When they look away upon hearing the cue, praise them. This helps the dog understand that responding correctly to the cue leads to a reward. Repeat this process to make training fun while teaching your dog.

Step 5: Be Generous but Strict

Your criteria for rewards must be clear and consistent to effectively teach your dog to leave objects. Decide exactly which behaviours deserve a high value treat and stick to it. For example, only reward your dog when they truly “Leave It” by looking away from the object of interest. Do not reward them if they simply hesitate or stop before engaging with the object. Consistent rules are crucial in shaping a confident and reliable dog. When the handler is clear and consistent, the dog understands the rules and behaves reliably. However, if the handler is unclear, the dog will also be uncertain, leading to inconsistent and imprecise behaviour. This clarity impacts the dog’s life and interactions with other dogs. For more guidance on setting and maintaining these standards and paying attention to different treat strategies, check out our Canine Good Citizen Programme. Repeat these steps consistently to ensure success.

Step 6: Review and Iterate

Behaviour can change, and new situations might affect your dog’s responses. Stay observant and be ready to adjust your training to keep the “Leave It” cue clear and consistent. Remember, consistent rules are the key to strong obedience, even when life gets unpredictable.

Step 7: Wean off the Treat

Over time, try using intermittent reinforcement. Vary the value and frequency of rewards to keep the behaviour strong, even without a treat. This approach helps avoid treat dependency and promotes lasting obedience.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Even with your best efforts, you might face challenges in training. Your dog might hesitate or seem confused by the cue. Check your consistency and clarity. Look for external factors like distractions or internal ones like hunger or restlessness that might affect your dog’s behaviour.

If problems continue, go back to earlier steps to reinforce basics. Adjust the value of rewards—try using a higher-value treat to regain your dog’s focus. Additionally, adjust the difficulty of the exercise. Use an object of lesser value to the dog, or increase the distance between the object and the dog, making it easier for the dog to practice self-control.

Professional dog training can provide personalised advice. Don’t hesitate to seek support; it can be very helpful in your training journey.

Towards Happy Training

Training your dog is not merely about teaching them cues but nurturing a relationship steeply founded in trust and understanding. The “Leave It” cue, once mastered, defends your dog from possible harm and reinforces your status as a trusted guide in their world.

Remember, as you guide your faithful friend through the realms of obedience and companionship, your shared experiences shall weave a narrative rich with growth and mutual respect. May your training sessions be as rewarding for you as they are for your dog, and may your adventures together reflect the harmony of your bond. Happy training!

Picture of Webster Cheong, BA, IAABC-ADT, CPDT-KA

Webster Cheong, BA, IAABC-ADT, CPDT-KA

Webster has trained various species in zoos, rehabilitated companion animals, and championed animal welfare standards. He represented Singapore in the Amphibian Taxon Advisory Group, focusing on amphibian care and conservation. Now, his main focus is in canine fitness and conditioning as well as essential canine skills.

Picture of Qiai Chong, MSc, CSAT, CSB-D, CPDT-KSA

Qiai Chong, MSc, CSAT, CSB-D, CPDT-KSA

With over a decade of study in the animal behaviour and welfare sciences, Qiai earned her Masters from the University of Edinburgh and has since devoted herself to the welfare and behaviour of pets. She has worked as an animal behaviourist since, and her expertise lies in addressing pet behavioural issues such as fears, phobias, anxiety and aggression.

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