Teaching a “leave it” command to a dog is the same as teaching a toddler “don’t touch.” It could save him from accident or injury. Try to never let your dog get the treat on the floor. Feed from your hand only for this exercise. Check out the video links, as well as the step-by-step instructions, below.

Step 1
Have your dog on leash, or keep your foot or hand ready to cover the treat.

Step 2
Toss a piece or two of kibble on the ground in front of the dog. Do not let him have it, either by preventing him with the leash or covering the food. Keep a piece of yummy special food in your hand. Say nothing.

Step 3
Wait for your dog to look away from the food or slack off the leash. Immediately mark that behaviour (click or yes) and give your dog the special treat from your hand.

Step 4
Your dog will probably turn back to the kibble on the floor. Simple repeat steps 1 to 3 as often as needed. If a little help is needed, simple back up a couple of steps to encourage the dog to come away from the kibble.

Step 5
Once the dog is spending more time looking at you than at the kibble, have a helper move the treat or you move yourself and the dog to a different position. 

Step 6
Once you can accurately predict that your dog will turn away from the kibble, you may add the cue “leave it” after you toss the kibble or move the dog.

Step 7
Once your dog is reliably turning towards you from any position rather than staring at the kibble, you can start to add movement. Walk past the floor kibble several feet away. If your dog looks down and looks back at you (with or without the cue), click and feed. If the dog is unable to look away from the kibble, stand still until he does, click, treat, then try again with more distance.

Step 8
Gradually move closer and closer to the food reinforcing whenever the dog looks at you or moves towards you.

Step 9
Move back out again and change the object on the ground. Maybe use your dog’s favourite toy or a treat instead of boring old kibble.

To learn how to make positive introductions between dogs and horses, read the article “Introducing Predator to Prey” in the 2012 Canadian Horse Annual, by Karin Apfel, owner of DogSmart Training – http://www.dogsmartsolutions.com/