Place a treat on the floor with your hand over it. Let the dog try to get the treat. As soon as your pet stops trying, mark the moment, and reward. However, don’t use the treat on the floor. Although you could offer that treat with the “take it” cue, it’s time for the dog to understand that this isn’t about eventually getting the item. After all, dropped medication will never be up for grabs. Instead, reward the dog with a different treat from your pocket or other hand. Ideally, make the reward treat of higher value than the floor treat. This helps emphasize that leaving certain things alone leads to the chance for even better things.
When the dog is readily leaving the covered treat alone, start removing your hand. But, be ready to cover the treat again if necessary. The goal is for the dog to ignore the uncovered treat, but you want to prevent the dog from getting the food at all costs. When the dog looks away, leans back, or in some way shows disinterest in the uncovered food, mark and reward with a higher value treat from your other hand.
Place the dog on a leash and do this same exercise standing up. Except now, use your foot rather than your hand to cover the dropped food. The leash is for preventing the dog from getting any food that you accidentally miss or kick away.
If the dog is automatically leaving the food alone when you drop it to the floor, you have taught great impulse control. Now you’re ready to add the “leave it” cue. Because the dog understands the concept, you shouldn’t have to use the cue, but it’s fantastic for other situations too. Before you drop the food, tell the dog to “leave it.” When the dog ignores the food, mark and reward with the higher value treats in your other hand. After many repetitions, the dog should understand the meaning of the cue.
Now it’s time to up your training and walk the dog past things that need to be ignored.
With the dog out of the room, place low value treats in a row along the ground. Space them several feet apart. Now bring your leashed dog into view of the floor treats, say “leave it,” and walk past the row. At each treat, mark and reward the dog with a high value treat for ignoring the floor treat, then walk on to the next. Don’t try to do the whole row at once. If the dog tries to eat the floor treat, quickly cover it with your foot, using the leash to prevent the dog from reaching the treat before you.
When the dog is ignoring each treat one at a time, try walking past the entire row after giving the “leave it” cue. Reward a successful run with something extra special like a game of tug or a chew bone. Show the dog that ignoring things means the chance for something even more amazing.
Repeat the above exercises outside on the sidewalk or in the yard. The more locations in which you train, the better the dog will respond no matter where you are.
Replace the food on the ground with other objects the dog loves, such as chew toys or tennis balls. This will help the dog generalize the cue from food to anything you don’t want the dog to have.
When the dog is reliable with the cue, no matter what the object, it’s time to try “leave it” with real-world distractions like a cat or a person riding a bicycle. Be ready with a super high-value reward and keep the dog on leash to prevent the dog from taking off after the distraction. Remember, don’t use the cue if you know the dog won’t respond. You don’t want the dog to practice ignoring you! Instead, go back to training and work that particular distraction into your routine.