Want to train your golden retriever to leave it?
This is one of the most useful (and possibly life-saving) commands you can teach your pup.
It can help them avoid eating dangerous items around the house or during walks, and can help them ignore other dogs or people while on the leash.
Keep reading to learn how to teach your golden retriever to leave it step by step.
Why It’s Important To Train Your Golden Retriever To Leave It
Here are a few benefits of teaching your golden retriever the “leave it” command.
Puppies are notoriously bad with impulse control.
But by teaching them the “leave it” command, you’re working on training their impulse control.
This is because they’ll learn that if they don’t give in to their initial impulse, they’ll get an awesome reward.
Bonding with you
When you teach them to look at you instead of whatever thing it is that they want, it strengthens the bond between you two.
They learn that looking at you gets them what they want, and relate looking at you and your presence with good things happening.
Leave it will help your puppy avoid nasty things on walks, like roadkill, or dog poop, as well as in the home, like human food, or something they’re not supposed to have, like socks and underwear.
Pulling on the leash
You can teach your dog that “leave it” also applies to humans and other dogs, which will help in situations like when they’re barking or pulling while on the leash.
When your golden retriever knows to how to leave something alone, they’ll be able to stop looking at something that may make them excited or anxious, and focus on you.
Plus, giving them a job to do (looking at you), helps focus their mind and give them confidence.
How To Teach Your Golden Retriever To Leave It
Below are step-by-step instructions on how to train your golden to leave it.
There are a bit more steps here than in some of the other training tutorials on this site, but that’s because your battling impulse control, as well as teaching leave it in a few different settings and scenarios.
And be sure to read each step (especially step #8) before trying to teach your puppy leave it.
Step 0: Set Your Golden Up For Success
Whenever you’re training your golden retriever to do anything, you need to set them up for success.
You can do that by making sure they’re not bursting with energy or are too distracted.
I like to play a little tug or fetch with Oliver before we train, and then start in an area where he’s comfortable in and there are little distractions, like in the living room.
Step 1: Hold A Treat In Your Hand And Get Them To Leave It
If you make your golden retriever leave it, they won’t learn as well as if they decide to leave it for themselves.
This is an incredibly important concept and is what makes this way of training leave it so effective.
So to do that, first sit down on the floor with a treat in your closed hand.
Your puppy will bite, lick, and paw at your hand, but keep your fist closed.
Don’t pull your hand back, or tell them no, but as soon as they stop attacking your hand for a second, mark (either with a word like “yes” or a clicker) and reward.
This will help them learn that by resisting the impulse to attack your hand, they get what they want.
If they’re too intense at attacking your hand, use a less desirable treat, like their kibble, or a green bean, and then give them a treat that they really like from your other hand.
Step 2: Make Them Leave It And Give You Eye Contact
Once your dog reliably leaves a treat alone in your hand, make them give you eye contact before you mark and reward them.
You can do that by waiting until they look at you, or by making a kissy noise or sigh to get them to look at you.
Once they leave it and look you in the eye, then you can mark and reward them.
Step 3: Play The Peekaboo Game
You can play the peekaboo game by sitting on the ground, putting several treats on the ground in front of you, letting your puppy see the treats, then covering them with your hand.
Like in the previous steps, you mark and reward when your puppy leaves the treats on the ground alone and looks up at you.
Once they can reliably leave the treats on the floor with your hand covering them, slowly work up to where you don’t have to cover them with your hand.
At first, your puppy might try to lunge at the uncovered treats, so be sure to cover them when they do lunge, but after some practice, they’ll learn to resist them.
And when you’re playing this game, make sure to not let your puppy eat the treats off of the floor in front of you, but instead pick them up and give one to them.
This lets them learn that they won’t always get to eat whatever they see on the floor, but do get to eat what you offer them.
Step 4: Play The Peekaboo Game While Standing Up
Step four is pretty much repeating step three, only instead of sitting on the ground right in front of the treats, you’re standing up, and instead of using your hand to cover them, you use your foot, or an object like a bowl.
This teaches the puppy that even though you’re not right in front of the treats, they still need to leave them alone.
And again, like in step three, you want to work until your puppy can sit there, leave the treats alone, and look at you while the treats are uncovered.
And also like in step three, you want to reward your puppy from your hand and not let them eat the treats on the floor.
Step 5: Drop Treats On The Floor And Reward Your Puppy For Leaving Them
Once your puppy can ignore treats just sitting on the floor, it’s time to up the ante and have them ignore moving treats.
First, drop treats from just a few inches off of the floor and mark and reward your puppy for leaving them.
Your puppy may try to go for them, so be ready to cover them if need be.
Once your puppy can successfully ignore dropped treats from a few inches, slowly increase the height you drop them from until you can drop them from at least waist height.
This will simulate you dropping a pill or a grape and having them leave it, which may very well happen in real life.
Step 6: Teach Your Puppy To Leave It While On A Leash
All the previous steps have been teaching your puppy how to leave it while off-leash, which helps them build the skill of leaving it and simulates a situation that might happen in the house.
Now it’s time to work up to practicing a situation that you might experience while out on your walks.
To start, put your puppy on a leash, set a few treats on the floor, and stand near the treats.
Mark and reward your puppy when they look away from the food on the floor and up at you.
At first, it might be really hard for your puppy to do this, so start a few feet away from the treats and work up to where you can walk by the treats on a loose leash with your puppy looking at you.
And although this is simulating what might happen on a walk, you want to first start this training inside the house.
Step 7: Teach Your Puppy To Leave It With Human Food
Repeat step six, but instead of treats, use human food, so that your dog knows that this behavior applies to everything.
Start with something boring, like a piece of bread, then work up to where you’re able to leave meat or pizza on the floor without them going for it.
With every new and enticing food, you might need to start a few feet away from the food and slowly work your way closer and closer to it.
Step 8: Teach The Cue “Leave It”
As Emily from Kikopup says, when you can bet $100 that your puppy will leave it, start to add in the cue “leave it.”
By waiting until you know your puppy will leave it, this will help make sure that they learn to obey the cue, instead of hearing the cue and sometimes obeying, sometimes not.
Teach the cue by saying, “leave it” as they’re looking away from the treat and up at you.
You can start with step one and work all the way up to step seven to help them learn that “leave it” applies in a variety of situations.
Step 9: Practice “Leave It”
Once your puppy knows what “leave it” means, it’s time to practice it.
Practice it in different rooms in the house, in the driveway, in the backyard, on your walks, at the park, and everywhere you might go with your golden.
Also, practice with different foods, different treats, and even different toys.
And here are two rules to keep in mind when practicing leave it”
- Always set them up for success. For example, if you’re teaching leave it in a new environment, use a less valuable treat, or if you’re teaching leave it with a new food or toy, start teaching it in a room they’re comfortable in, like the living room.
- Never let them get whatever is on the floor unless you have a specific cue for that. You don’t want them to get used to getting something after they’re told to leave it, because in a real-life situation you probably won’t want them to get something after you’ve asked them to leave it (like a dead animal on the sidewalk).
Bonus Step: Teach Your Puppy That “Leave It” Applies To Humans & Dogs
Just like with the other steps, you want to teach your puppy that leave it applies to humans and other dogs slowly.
For instance, start up to fifty feet away from another dog and tell your puppy to leave it.
If they ignore the dog and look at you, you can work towards getting closer and closer.
Mistakes When Teaching “Leave It”
Here are some common mistakes most people make when teaching their golden retriever to leave it.
Forcing your puppy to leave it
In order for your puppy to best learn to leave it, they need to decide for themselves that they want to leave it, and they want to look at you.
By pulling away the food or telling them no, you’re not allowing them to make that decision themselves.
Punishing your puppy when they don’t leave it
You want your puppy to want to look at you when you ask them to leave it.
If you physically or verbally punish them for not obeying, they won’t want to look at you.
Letting your dog get the treats on the floor as a reward
In real life, you probably won’t allow your puppy to get whatever you’re asking them to leave alone, so don’t get in the practice of telling them leave it, then letting them have it.
Giving the “leave it” cue too soon
If you ask your puppy to leave it before they can reliably leave it, they might get into the habit of hearing the cue, but not always obeying, which will make this behavior much more unreliable.
When teaching your puppy to leave it, you want to enable them to make the decision to leave it by themselves, and mark and reward that decision.
You do that by breaking the process into very small steps, and slowly making whatever you’re asking them to leave more and more tempting.
Once they can leave it, add in the cue and then practice it with different items in different locations.
Big shoutout to Kikopup to helping me first learn how to teach Oliver to leave it.
Have any questions about teaching your golden to leave it?
Let me know in the comments below.
And if you know someone who wants to teach their golden retriever to leave it, please share this with them!
P.S. If your golden retriever has grabbed something with their mouth and it’s too late to tell them to leave it, read our guide to teach them how to drop it.