Teaching Your Dog to “Leave it”

I was recently interviewed about Canine Good Citizen’s advanced tests- AKC Community Canine and AKC Urban CGC.

The reporter lived in a large metropolitan city and near the end of the interview, she said, “I would love to do this with my dog, but she could never pass these tests.” I asked which test items would be a problem. “Only one,” she said. “No matter what I do, my dog won’t ignore food or food containers on a sidewalk.”

pizza box sidewalkHere are some tips for teaching the “Leave it” command. The idea underlying this training is 1) that you’ve put a systematic plan in place and 2) you teach your dog good things may come her way if she follows your directions to “leave it.”


  1. Start by playing the “Leave it” game at home. Sit on the floor with your dog. Say, “Leave it,” as you hold a treat in your hand with your fist closed. The dog will sniff your hand and may try to get the treat.
  2. As soon as your dog stops trying to get the treat (or stops sniffing your hand), praise the dog. (Good girl!) Immediately give your dog a treat from the other hand.
  3. Practice this several times until the dog responds to “leave it.”
  4. Make this game harder by putting the food on the floor, covering it with your hand, and saying, ‘leave it.’ As before, when the dog stops trying to get the food, praise and give a treat from your other hand.


Now it’s time to start making the task approximate what will happen in the real world.

  1. At home, (indoors is fine), put your dog on a leash. You will have placed a few treats around the room or yard. Walk by the treats about 5 feet away and say, “leave it” if the dog starts to go toward the food.
  2. You can also use alternative behaviors here, such as telling the dog, “watch me” or “heel.”
  3. When the dog looks at you or turns away from the food on the floor/ground, praise and give a treat.
  4. Eventually you will fade out the treats and your dog should be able to walk by food or food containers with no trouble.


In the last phase of training, you’ll test the dog in the real world. Be sure to carry some treats in the initial phases of training. If you don’t see food on the sidewalk, you can plant some treats for training purposes.

With reinforcement for doing the right thing and systematic training, your dog will soon learn to “leave it.”

For questions about CGC, contact cgc@akc.org


About Canine Good Citizen

AKC Canine Good Citizen Director, Author of the AKC's official CGC book, "CITIZEN CANINE"
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