7. Don't Pick That Up (Leave It)

Exercise 7.3 - How to stop your dog chasing things!

Chasing joggers and bikes is a fairly common issue dog trainers are consulted about, after all, chasing a moving target is all very good fun if you’re a dog and more than that it’s an instinct especially in some breeds (think border collie & working dogs).


If your dog likes to indulge in this pastime he’s just doing a job he was genetically hardwired to do but unfortunately for him, humans, no matter how fast they’re moving, are not to be chased and herded!


Chasing intriguing objects is instinctual for most dogs, but dog owners need to be able to quickly end a chase that could be dangerous, destructive, or rude.


For a dog that chases moving objects, a standard recall, even a strong one, may not be helpful...


We have trained “Come” to have one meaning to the dog, “come back to me!.”  Alone, it doesn’t communicate the most crucial information that a dog in hot pursuit of fun might need i.e “leave that thing alone!”


Help is at hand though and we’ve already done quite a lot on this subject – the behaviour we want in this context is “Leave It!”


The “Leave It” cue is a high value cue to teach a dog and it becomes even more so once we start generalising it to mean don’t just leave food alone but also leave that dead rabbit alone, leave that dog alone, leave that person alone and leave that jogger / bike  alone!


Trained properly, a strong “leave-it” acts like a superman-level recall for a dog that loves to chase!


In our last Leave It session - Exercise 7.2 we had progressed to the point of throwing a treat or toy ahead and then releasing the dog to get it and using our Leave It cue to interrupt and bring our dog’s attention back on us.


Now we start work to generalise this to other distractions.  For the purposes of demonstrating the method I’m using a Tupperware box containing food as a distraction but the method is the same whatever distractions you train with and you do need to train with all the things your dog finds distracting!


Step 1 - Control the environment and the distraction.


It’s super important when you start this training process that you can control the environment and the distraction.

  • Begin your training in a quiet place and use something that distracts your dog.
  • Pick a working distance where you know from your prior training your dog can be successful.
  • Walk towards the distraction and the moment your dog looks ahead at the distraction say your “Leave It” cue and immediately use a high value food lure on your dog’s nose to about turn and walk the other way.
  • The point here is not to get close to the distraction, the point is to get an instant response to turn away from it when you use your “leave it” cue.

Practice, practice, practice and then time for a test. 

  • To test your dogs understanding, repeat the exercise and use your leave-it cue without the food lure.
  • Note: two failed tests means he doesn’t understand yet.

Help your dog be successful and be consistent. Your dog must turn away immediately.

Always end the session with a successful repetition.


After you’ve practice with several different distractions in several different locations progress to taking your new training skill out on walks and start to add new challenges.


You could, in advance (or with a friend), plant some interesting treats or toys along a common walking route.  Walk by, asking your dog to leave each object and reward when he turns away. If this is too tough, start in a quieter location like the garden.


Work at first in quieter areas, asking your dog to “leave it” when you see anything interesting on the ground or approaching you.  At this stage, you want to always reward your dog for immediately turning away.  Gently work up to busier, more exciting walks.


The key is to ask your dog to “leave it” when they first notice and begin moving towards a target. If you say the cue too late (i.e., once your dog is close to the target), your cue is less likely to work.


A quiet off-lead area comes next. 


You can try throwing a toy or simply ask your dog to leave alone things like other dogs and birds from a good distance away.  


If your dog fails to respond, calmly pop a lead on and stand still, holding them close to you for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Failure to respond to your cue results in temporary removal of your dog’s freedom.


Progress to trying your “leave it” cue when your dog is off lead and very active but always remember to say your cue when your dog first goes for something (not when they’re in the middle of a chase) and to give them a short time out if they fail to respond.


If your dog is very up for chasing other dogs, joggers and cyclists you will need to recruit some volunteers so that you can control the situation and help your dog learn to be successful with these challenges.



Bottom line, you won’t regret the time spent generalising this vitally important cue and you will find yourself using it every day. 


Mastering “Leave it” will help keep your dog (and whatever they’re chasing) safe and make your walks much more relaxing and enjoyable!