Do you mean it? You said it; but are you serious? If you're not then forget about your dog listening to you. Often when we make rules and regulations we sometimes let things slide; but there are a few behaviors that should never slide. One of the least trained behaviors is "leave it. It is essential that each and every dog should be taught and understand what "leave it" means. It's not easy for some; those who are not into sharing or have a high drive can find it difficult. But all dogs can learn and perfect the "leave it."
The secret to this particular behavior is to make not taking something a good thing. In the beginning of the training you are going to make it easy; really easy. Dogs learn very quickly when they have success; so the most infinitesimal progress will be rewarded. The leave it verbal cue is to be used before your dog picks something up in their mouth. So if your dog already has an item in their mouth; you would use "drop" or "drop it" which I will cover in a future blog. To teach the "leave it" behavior you begin by putting a low value item in one hand. In your other hand that is held behind your back you will have reward treats. The item that you are going to have your dog leave can be a toy; but preferably food, if your dog likes food that is. Before opening your hand and putting it in front of your dog you say firmly "leave it." You cannot allow your dog to take the item at anytime; you have to have really fast reflexes.
If your dog attempts to take it; close your hand quickly around the item and pull it away. I also use ahhahh in a deep tone. Then try again; remember to say "leave it" first. If your dog does not take the item for a split second; praise and reward with a piece of food that you had in your other hand behind your back immediately. Once they leave it for a second they catch on very quickly. Dogs learn that they just need to sit there and not take the food and you will keep rewarding them for it; simple. At that point you make it harder and harder; first switch hands, this usually throws them as the delivery hand now becomes the no no hand.
Leave it video
Once they can do both hands then you move your hand down until it is on the ground to do the exercise. Most dogs loose it here as well; typically food on the floor is fair game. Be very on guard; if they actually get the food out of your hand then it is much harder to get your point across. Next you are going to say " leave it," put the food on the ground and your hand an inch away. Reward again for a second of not taking the food. Practice this throughout the day at short intervals and only progress to the next step when you have success at each.
The goal is to be able to drop food on the ground and have your dog not grab it. If you practice the leave it behavior often enough and make it beneficial enough for your dog; you may have a dog that never grabs for food dropped on the floor. A typical response then turns to attention on you and waiting for the okay. "Leave it" is an amazingly useful behavior; you can use it for many different situations once it is second nature. I will often use it when Luke and I are walking by a pushy type male dog; this averts a leash aggression issue. Just this evening I told Tilley to leave it when she approached the dishwasher for her regular pre-wash evening cycle. She looked at me like "what?" I always lick the dishes; but she left the kitchen like a good girl.
For dogs who have an obsessive behavior for a particular object; this takes a lot of work to get to the "leave it" stage. Tilley is very obsessive for tennis balls or anything that might be tossed so that she may chase and retrieve it. But with hard work; she learned to leave a tennis ball and even a frisbee, even when tossed. It is very important to get a handle on obsession in dogs; "leave it" can make the task a bit less daunting.
Giving your dog is never a waste; each and everything that you teach your dog makes it that much easier to teach the next lesson. And this one really comes in handy.