How to Teach a Dog to Leave a Distraction and Look at You

Wag

Dogs are naturally curious creatures, and their noses are their primary investigative tool. We, as humans, understand that roadkill, garbage, and sidewalk liquids are dangerous consumables, but this understanding does not necessarily transfer to canines. As an owner, you are responsible for redirecting your dog’s attention when their explorations lead to some unhealthy destinations.

Teaching your dog to “leave it” is a fun but necessary command to teach your dog early in their training. The idea is simple: you want to redirect your dog’s attention back to you upon request. Recognize that this command requires dogs to disregard their natural, explorative instincts. Just like learning any command, the process takes patience and practice. Follow the steps below to teach your dog to “leave” a distraction!

Step 1: Getting Ready

  1. Come prepared to teach your dog. Find a quiet place to work such as a yard or low-traffic street. Your dog should be held on a short leash – short enough so that you can easily reach your dog’s nose. Have a treat ready in your empty hand. For training purposes, the treat should be one of your dog’s favorites!

  2. Find a distraction for your dog to leave. A small pile of treats right out of your dog’s reach is a great starter. The distraction should be attractive enough to engage your dog’s instincts, but ideally not as appealing as the treat in your hand.

Step 2: Bringing in the Distraction

  1. Let your dog focus on the distraction. Make sure that your dog notices the distraction and moves towards it. Allow your dog to sniff and smell whatever you put out.
  2. Distract your dog. Put your non-leash hand with the treat near your dog’s nose. Make sure that they smell the treat.
  3. Use the command “LEAVE IT” Or “LOOK AT ME”. The goal is for your dog to turn back from the distraction and look at you. During training, the treat in your hand is the incentive as they become more concerned with what is in their hand than what is on the ground.
  4. Reward with verbal praise when they follow the command. If your dog does not turn towards you after giving the command once, repeat again. Make sure to acknowledge with praise if your dog turns around this time.

Step 3: Increasing the Distraction

  1. Once your dog consistently starts to “leave” distractions while on a leash, start having them leave other things. Your distractions should not be limited to just treats.
  2. Start to practice leaving people, smells, food, or even another dog.
  3. Lose the leash. You might have to initially practice leaving each new thing on a leash first, but slowly integrating other distractions will teach your dog to leave objects whenever they hear the “leave it” command.

Conclusion

Positive reinforcement is a key component of learning this command. Every time your dog correctly follows your command and leaves a distraction, make sure to offer it verbal praise. Your dog will eventually learn to associate the command “LEAVE IT” with attention redirection if they recognize the praise that follows.  Good luck!

Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB
Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB is one of the founders of Wag Enabled (originally Why Does My Dog). Aly has a certificate in applied animal behavior through the University of Washington and is a certified veterinary assistant and AKC Evaluator. She aims to provide an unbiased perspective on dog training by providing practical, intelligent, and caring advice for people to impart on their canine companions