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Do you want to learn how to train a German Shepherd to “leave it” with such precision people will start asking YOU to train THEIR dogs?
You’re enjoying a walk through one of your favorite paths around the city when all of a sudden…
Your dog sees what you can only guess is a week-old cheeseburger. 🍔
You don’t want your dog to get sick or worse — need vet treatment!
But how do you teach your German Shepherd to leave things alone?
By the time you finish reading this post, you’ll know exactly how to get a German Shepherd to “leave it” and avoid any pitfalls of an untrained dog.
So let’s take a closer look.
How do you train a German shepherd to “leave it”?
Training a German Shepherd to “leave it” involves teaching your dog to step away from whatever he’s touching, about to touch or grab, or is paying attention to. Teaching the “leave it” command means setting your German Shepherd up in a situation where you help them become successful by using positive reinforcement for leaving whatever it is they wanted alone. This training generally starts in a quiet, distraction-free room at home, then increases the distance and distractions.
Finally, you’ll work your way up to teaching your German Shepherd to “leave it” outdoors. You’ll build upon baby steps when teaching your GSD to “leave it” so they can always make the best decision.
This helps their training to stick with them when they need to make a lightning-quick choice on their own outside…
Even if there are lots of distractions around them!
The Benefits of Learning How To Train a German Shepherd to “Leave It”
It’s a simple fact of life that German Shepherds seem to find ways to get into trouble. But, contrary to popular belief, your dog doesn’t do it on purpose or out of spite.
German Shepherds, when given the opportunity, become interested in inappropriate behaviors simply because they haven’t been taught differently and haven’t been taught an alternative, positive behavior.
In particular, German Shepherd puppies want to mouth everything around them!
And some dogs with reputations for being “Hoovers” eat the most unseemly items such as socks, underwear, or electronics. When these foreign objects are swallowed, the result is illness or worse – intestinal blockages (source)!
Many times you could avoid these hazardous situations if your German Shepherd knew a simple cue: leave it.
Leave It Prevents Accidents
Training your German Shepherd to “leave it” prevents accidents and unwanted behaviors.
Think about all the times your GSD might get into something that you don’t want:
Chasing a cat into the street
Lunging at bicycle riders
Running after kids on scooters, skateboards, or skates
Picking up rotten food
Digging through piles of trash
Accidentally eating a dropped pill of your medication
Licking a toxic substance
There are countless times that teaching your German Shepherd to leave things alone comes in handy in your training and daily life!
The leave it command isn’t just for food you drop or nasty things your GSD puppy might try to explore.
It’s a multifunctional command that lets you help your dog stay safe.
Leave It: Your Final Goal in Training Your GSD
The main goal of teaching your German Shepherd to ignore any dropped items is turning their response into automatic behavior. This means, instead of lunging to take an item from the floor or ground, your GSD leaves it alone without being asked.
Think about it…
You might not always see the hazards before your German Shepherd, so you might miss the opportunity to say your cue!
It’s much more preferable to teach your German Shepherd to look to you for permission before picking anything up off the ground.
But, given the watchful nature of a German Shepherd to scan their environment (and not necessarily focus on you), that’s quite a tall order!
Particularly for high-drive, high-energy puppies. I’m looking at your German Shepherd puppy running a mile a minute when I type this! 🏃🏽♀️
But there are training steps that can help teach your German Shepherd to learn self-control…
Even with temptations around!
It’s your job to work patiently to train this life-saving command and to teach your German Shepherd impulse control.
Impulse control is the basis of the “leave it” command.
How does impulse control work when training your German Shepherd to leave it?
Impulsivity is when your GSD acts on a whim, with little planning or forethought of the consequences of their behavior.
A lack of impulse control in a German Shepherd often results in behaviors, such as:
Sprinting out an open door anytime they have the chance
Stealing food from the counter (also known as “counter surfing”)
Snatching snacks or treats from your hand or off the floor
Rushing to greet people while dragging you along on their leash
Lunging after cats and squirrels
Unfortunately, your dog doesn’t have the forethought of their actions, as people do. Your German Shepherd is an opportunist, and they do what works best for them at any given moment.
Even if it means it’s not appropriate.
You can teach a German Shepherd to wait and be patient!
These “leave it” lessons will not only help your GSD learn some needed manners, but they will also help keep your dog safe.
“Leave It” Training Details
Alerts your GSD that a given impulse or item isn’t in their best interest.
5 repetitions at each of the steps listed below, at least 3 times daily in short sessions spread throughout the day.
Indoors, in your back or front yard, and outdoors.
Train your German Shepherd by adding in distance and distractions to ensure your dog understands the cue. Don’t assume they know the leave it command outdoors, just because they know it indoors.
Teaching the command to leave things alone takes an action plan that reinforces your German Shepherd’s behavior.
Helpful Training Equipment
Lower value treats
Regular kibble or another reward they like, but don’t love
High value treats
Your GSD must LOVE this reward and REALLY want it
Multi-pocket treat bag
This makes training easier and your response quicker
For the “leave it” training you’ll need the following supplies and equipment:
A lower value treat that your dog still wants. This could be their regular kibble or another treat they like, but don’t love. This is so they’re not overly tempted to lunge after the treat immediately.
A versatile divided-pocket treat pouch that holds your clicker, tasty treats, and any other high-value treats you might need. You could use your pocket to hold the higher value treat, but it’s easier to reach into a treat bag to quickly reward your dog.
How to Train a German Shepherd to “Leave It”: Step-by-Step
The training for this command is a bit trickier because you’ll have to teach your German Shepherd to ignore something enticing in exchange for something better in the end.
I’ve found the easiest way to train a German Shepherd to “leave it” is by using positive reinforcement, repetition, high-value rewards, and then training the behavior in different situations. This means you’ll give your dog a treat whenever they make the correct decision, even in busy environments, and you’ll work to teach them to leave things using baby steps.
This ensures they know the cue, no matter where you say it.
It also produces great results in a short amount of time! 👍🏼
Starting Your Training
At the beginning of training, don’t use the word “leave it” yet. You first want your dog to understand what behavior you want them to do before you give it a name.
Reward your German Shepherd for every single correct response during the initial training. You’ll cut back on treats, later on, so don’t worry about always needing treats to train.
To start teaching your dog what you want from them, use the dog training method known as capturing. This simply means you’ll let your GSD make its own decisions and you’ll reward them for the correct one.
Here are the steps to teaching your German Shepherd to leave things alone when you ask them.
Find a quiet room in your house with little to no distractions to begin your training. You want to start easy so it’s quicker for your dog to succeed.
In order for your dog to understand and learn this command, he must win many times. Make the learning phase easy, and increase the difficulty level gradually.
This is the best way to train because it helps her to succeed at the behavior quickly!
1. Begin by offering a lower-value treat with a closed hand.
Start training your German Shepherd to leave it by holding a low-value treat near them.
Keep your hand closed so she can’t get to it but place your hand at your dog’s nose level so he smells the scent. Your German Shepherd will most likely try to get at it by licking your hand, biting and nibbling at it, pawing at your closed hand, or barking.
Ignore it all because it’s not what you want!
As soon as your GSD gives up and either looks away from your hand, moves away from your hand, or stares into your eyes, mark and reward them (or click and treat!).
But, don’t reward them from the hand with the treat. You can also use the clicker.
Here are the two ways to train this cue:
Mark and reward – say “yes” or “good” or whatever your cue word is for the right behavior, then give them a tastier treat from your pocket or treat pouch.
Click and treat – push the clicker and give them their delicious reward from your treat bag or pocket.
You must mark and reward them in less than 2 seconds following the behavior, which is either looking away or making eye contact with you in this case.
Remember: The reward must come from a different place other than the treat in your hand. Giving a different treat of higher value to your dog is very important because you don’t want to let your German Shepherd think “leave it” means they can ever get the item, even if they wait.
Think of it like this…
If one day you’re walking your German Shepherd and she walks past a dead mouse or discarded cheeseburger when you say “leave it,” then you’re not going to reward her by letting her have those unwanted items. 🐁
You’re going to reward her for leaving those things alone by giving her a treat from your pocket or treat bag.
It’s best to set your dog up for that scenario from the start so they learn to not pick things up after they’ve been given the command “leave it.” Leave it doesn’t mean they can have the item after they’ve waited.
If you want to let your German Shepherd have something after they’ve restrained themselves, that’s a different command — “wait.” Don’t use that cue word for the leave it command.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Now, keep repeating the leave it training, as described above in step 1, until your GSD starts to leave the food with the hand alone faster. This might take a while if you have a new German Shepherd puppy or an older GSD that is not used to training or impulse control.
Your dog will begin to anticipate that they have to look away to get the treat!
After several repetitions, your dog might not even approach your hand to sniff or paw at it anymore.
This means you are now ready to move on to the next step.
2. Strengthen the command with a treat in an open hand.
Previously, your dog learned to avoid your closed hand to get a reward. Now, you’re going to teach your German Shepherd to “leave it,” even if they’re presented a treat in an open hand.
Start as in the previous step, by offering your hand with a treat inside of it to your dog. But this time, when he moves away or doesn’t approach, open your hand so the treat is exposed in your palm.
More than likely, your German Shepherd will move toward the hand to take the treat. That’s OK.
Don’t panic, your dog is still learning.
CLOSE YOUR HAND QUICKLY SO SHE DOESN’T EAT IT!
However, as soon as she moves away, usually by stepping back or turning her head, open your hand again.
How using your hands for training your German Shepherd to leave things alone works
If your German Shepherd moves TOWARD your hand, your hand CLOSES
When your German Shepherd moves AWAY from your hand, your hand OPENS
Eventually, they’ll figure out that if they stay AWAY from the tempting treat in the open hand then your hand remains OPEN.
Remember, when your German Shepherd doesn’t move forward or try to get it (they can look at the treat, but not touch it), they get PRAISE and REWARD from the tastier treats in your pocket or treat bag.
Keep repeating this step until your puppy stays put when you offer them a treat in your opened hand.
After a bit of training with your OPEN hand, you’ll notice your German Shepherd no longer tries to get the treat and you can leave it on your open hand in plain sight of them.
At this point, praise them heavily and give them a jackpot of treats (a jackpot is at least 4 or 5 treats, one right after the next in a row, that you let them have as a sign of a job well done) from your treat pouch or pocket.
Remember, these are your higher value, tastier treats that the LOVE!
3. Add in your verbal cue “leave it.”
Now, you’ll want to continue your training by repeating Step 2, but start adding in your verbal command, “leave it”, before or right as you offer your hand (with a treat inside).
Don’t scream and yell “leave it” to scare your dog into staying away from the item.
Speak in your natural, normal voice.
Your German Shepherd doesn’t understand the cue word “leave it” yet, but the idea is to start using the command before he acts. After many repetitions, your dog will create an association between the cue word and the desired behavior (when your dog doesn’t try to take the food from your hand).
Adding in the verbal cue “leave it”
Predicts that you are going to place the food in your hand
Must always come first to have a predictive value to your dog and enforce their training
Once your German Shepherd ignores the treat in your open palm you know they understand the idea of leaving things alone.
Well, at least for treats in your hand!
Now, it’s time to take your training to the floor to reinforce the behavior you want and prepare for real-world scenarios.
4. Reinforce the command by training on the floor.
Since many dogs think things that fall or wind up on the floor are their possession, you’ll want to work on “leave it” training with your German Shepherd with treats on the floor.
Begin the training by starting with the less tempting treat on the floor, instead of your hand. This levels up their training and focuses on the floor or ground-level items.
Have the less tasty treat on the floor, covering it with your palm so your dog can’t get to it. Say the cue, “leave it.”
If your German Shepherd still responds properly to the command, either by looking away, stepping back, or staring into your eyes, praise and reward them with the tastier food reward from your pocket or treat bag.
After a few repetitions, start increasing the temptation by making the less tasty treat more accessible to them.
How to reinforce your German Shepherd to leave things alone
Lifting up the hand that’s covering the treat a few inches at a time, keeping close enough to cover the treat is they lunge for it
Only rewarding and praising your dog when they leave the lesser-value treat alone in favor of your more enjoyable reward from the opposite hand the treat on the floor was covered with
If your German Shepherd tries to get the treat from the floor after you’ve said “leave it,” cover the treat with your hand. When your dog gives up trying to get the treat from under your hand, give the tastier treat from your pocket with praise.
Continue training at this stage on the floor until you can raise your hand all the way off the treat on the floor so it’s in plain view of your German Shepherd and they no longer attempt to get to it.
When they leave the treat alone and your hand is entirely off the treat from the floor, praise them and give a jackpot of the tastier treats from your pocket and the hand that wasn’t over the treat, one right after the other in quick succession.
Note: Remember, giving your German Shepherd their reward from the other hand and the treat bag emphasizes that leaving things alone gives them the chance for even greater rewards.
Once your dog is successfully ignoring the treat on the floor with you sitting nearby, move on to the next step of your training.
5. Practice training while standing up with your German Shepherd on a leash.
Since your dog is doing so well with “leave it” you’ll make the training more challenging in this step.
First, place your GSD on a leash. Repeat the previous exercises from Step 4 while standing up. Except now, use your foot instead of your hand to cover the treat if they attempt to get it.
You can either drop the treat or place it on the ground near your foot. The leash helps prevent your dog from getting at the food that you drop and can’t cover with your foot in time.
But, don’t jerk your dog or hurt them if they go for the treat!
ONLY use your foot to quickly cover the treat on the ground. It’s best to avoid kicking the treat away since you could accidentally miss and seriously hurt your German Shepherd.
Increasing the difficulty of leaving things alone
Keep practicing and saying “leave it” before or as you drop the treat to give your dog a head’s up that they must not go after the dropped treat.
This step is difficult for German Shepherds because their initial response will be to lunge for the dropped treat!
After several repetitions at this stage, give your dog a jackpot (a small number of treats, given one right after the other as a super reward) for leaving the dropped treat on the ground and either turning away or staring into your eyes.
Only give them their reward from your pocket or treat bag — NEVER pick up the treat on the ground and give it to them or let them take it from the floor.
You want to teach them that “leave it” means don’t touch and another tastier, higher-value reward will arrive when they return to you for it!
When your dog returns to you after they’ve left the thing they really wanted, don’t reprimand them for thinking of getting the item you want them to ignore.
Instead, reward them handsomely!
This way, your German Shepherd begins to understand that not doing something and leaving it means they can return to you for positive reinforcement.
Ensure you make the correct choice obvious to your German Shepherd (leaving the object alone and coming to you).
Troubleshooting floor work with leave it
If you find your dog keeps lunging for the dropped treat, begin placing the treat on the ground instead of dropping it so it’s less enticing. German Shepherds are very motion-oriented and dropping the treat might engage your GSD’s prey drive too much at this point in training.
Work your way up from dropping the treat from a low height over several repetitions, until you’re fully standing and dropping the treat without your dog lunging for the treat immediately.
6. Gradually add in distance and distractions.
After many repetitions, your German Shepherd should understand the meaning of the “leave it” cue.
At least they should while indoors!
But, you haven’t worked with your dog using more distance and distractions yet. So, you’ll want to test your dog’s knowledge and make sure they’re fully trained on the command.
Have you heard of the 3 Ds of dog training?
Here’s a quick look at what you need to know about how this helps ensure your German Shepherd understands the leave it command.
The 3 Ds of Dog Training: What the Pros Know
Each D is a factor to increase the challenge of your dog’s task or behavior.
In a nutshell, the 3 Ds stand for:
Duration — how long they hold a position until rewarding them for the wanted behavior
Distance — how far away they are from you when you give the verbal cue
Distraction — how many things (sights and sounds) are around them at any given time they’re training
It’s best to only focus on one of these Ds at a time so your German Shepherd doesn’t get confused and not succeed on the command.
In the case of the leave-it command, you won’t need to worry about duration since your German Shepherd isn’t holding a static position (unlike when you teach them to sit, down, and wait).
Because leave-it is an action, not a position!
Add in the 3 D’s slowly and separately
Take each of the 3 Ds of dog training and add them in separately, one at a time, before putting them all together or you’ll confuse your pup.
And always increase in small steps.
This is how dog training professionals get their dogs to perform complicated commands in busy environments…
They break down the task into small units and add in the 3 Ds slowly, as described below.
Here’s how to add in distance and distractions to the “leave it” command, just like the professionals.
While working with your dog on a leash and dropping the food on the floor, move away from the food one step at a time.
Reward your dog for leaving it alone, even if you’ve only stepped a litter further away. Remember, you’re rewarding any baby steps your dog takes to leave the treat on the floor. And, only reward from the tastier treats in your pocket or dog treat bag.
Change up the location of the room you’ve been practicing in, making sure to add in a distraction slowly, such as the TV playing or someone else in the room talking.
Move on to teaching the cue outdoors, starting in your backyard and slowly adding in distractions outdoors.
Manipulate the training situation until your GSD gets it right, over and over again.
If your German Shepherd seems like they don’t understand the command outdoors, then you’ll need to start at Step 1, but this time training them to the cue outside.
Whenever you change locations or add in distractions you’ll need to drop down to Step 1 to ensure your GSD knows what “leave it” means at any distance and any locations.
Your German Shepherd’s final training for “leave it” comes from reliably responding to the command with life distractions, such as squirrels on walks, fast joggers, and even other dogs.
You want your dog to look toward you when hearing the cue in hopes they’ll get a tastier reward. This is very difficult since chasing squirrels and running after joggers ranks as an uber high-value reward for most German Shepherds!
To ensure they understand to leave other objects alone, you might try placing various objects, such as socks, shoes, or other objects they like but can’t have, into their training routine.
Slow and steady training techniques.
You’ll need to carry your treat pouch with you the first few days of training, but once your dog learns the cue you can reward them on a variable schedule, described in detail below.
You can’t just expect your German Shepherd to not chase their favorite annoying squirrel when you’ve only trained them indoors or have only worked with them outdoors in your backyard.
It’s slow, patient training using baby steps that’ll give you a solid “leave it.” This is how professional dog trainers are certain their dogs don’t chase things…
They work to gradually add in duration, distance, and distractions.
Phasing out the Rewards
In the beginning, you’ll train your German Shepherd to leave it by rewarding every single correct response.
But now, you need to teach them the concept that they won’t get a reward for every single good response.
You must phase out the rewards very gradually or your dog will give up their training altogether!
To phase out the rewards in “leave it” training:
Begin by randomly ignoring a few of your German Shepherd’s right responses by not giving them their treat reward, but saying your marker word (“yes” or “good”) or clicking for the response.
Start by skipping one treat out of 10, then 2 out of 10, then 3 out of 10.
After you teach your dog a new command you can phase out the treats for the previously learned behavior even more, in this case, the “leave it”.
But you’ll now reward them often for training their new command, which keeps them motivated. For example, don’t reward for “leave it,” but instead reward the next command you give them that’s new — such as a down/stay/come or any other command.
Even when you’re not giving treats, ALWAYS make a big deal about them “leaving it” and praise lavishly! Give your German Shepherd a pet and scratch on the scruff or offer them a quick game of play with a toy they enjoy.
Keep repeating this process: training a new behavior and giving treats often, phase out treats for learned behavior slowly and give treats less, then train another new behavior and give treats often again.
It’s a training cycle, so to speak.
Will you always need treats for your training?
To get a reliable response to your verbal cues and command you’ll need to reward often at the beginning of any new training.
But, because you randomly reward your German Shepherd they’ll keep trying as long as they see their efforts paying off. As you teach your dog a new command you can begin to wean them off getting treats for every correct response from their previously learned cue.
This transfers the treats they received from the old command into rewards for learning new behaviors!
Replace the times you don’t give your dog a food reward with PRAISE or a short game with their favorite toy.
What NOT to do when teaching the “leave it” cue.
Now that you know what to do when training the leave it command, here is what NOT to do:
Don’t yell or scream “leave it” to keep your dog away from the item. It’ll only scare them and make them wary of training with you.
Don’t expect your dog to leave a cat alone when you’re a few feet away without training them first from far away. An exciting, furry cat is much different from a few treats dropped in a quiet room indoors. Remember the 3 Ds of dog training, especially distance (see above for a reminder on the 3 Ds).
Don’t expect them not to sniff anything at all! Dogs explore with their noses and you should provide them chances to sniff things that are appropriate. Also, try these easy nose work ideas for German Shepherd enrichment to keep your brilliant dog happy and healthy — all while increasing their intelligence.
It’s not hard to teach “Leave it” to your German Shepherd and training can even be fun!
It does require plenty of practice and patience, though. 👈🏻
Why train “leave it” so much?
OK, I know what you’re thinking…
“Why do I have to train a German Shepherd to ‘leave it’ so many different ways?”
The point of training this cue is to help teach your German Shepherd impulse control.
You train using distance and distractions to put your dog in a situation where they can learn what you want them to know as quickly and as easily as possible.
Get farther away from them when giving the cue so they know that the distance doesn’t matter when you give the command
Gradually work up to getting them close to the things they REALLY want (while restraining themselves from taking it)
Add in distractions to make sure your German Shepherd understands to control his impulses
Teaching your dog to “leave it” will help them understand what’s acceptable for them to take and what you want them to leave alone.
And, an enormous part of learning how to train a German Shepherd to “leave it” like a professional dog trainer is having your dog learn to focus on you, the handler.
This is why you’ll need to work hard on teaching your dog NOT to do something that they really want!
But, one thing’s for sure…
Over time, when you say “leave it” to your German Shepherd the command will take hold no matter how tempting what they want is!
The Problem With “Leave It”
Some dog trainers think using the “leave it” command is problematic. This is because it only tells your dog what NOT to do, and not what you WANT them to do.
To solve this issue, pair the “leave it” command with another well-trained cue, such as “come” so that you can call your German Shepherd back to you once they leave the object alone.
I believe most German Shepherd owners want to know the “leave it” cue to prevent issues or hazards from happening to their dogs. So, I suggest teaching the command thoroughly AND pairing it with another command telling your dog what you WANT them to do instead.
You could even try the command with the following helpful cues — sit or down.
It’s up to you what you want to tell your German Shepherd to do after they “leave it.”
But I strongly suggest if you teach the leave-it command that you also learn to call your dog away from the enticing item you want them to ignore.
Catherine Krasavin owns Shepherd Sense, a dog website aimed at German Shepherd owners and lovers. She has a Bachelor of Science degree, with Honors, and has been training dogs for over a decade. Catherine’s currently attending continuing education courses to keep up with the latest in animal science, as well as earning her diploma in dog training. She owns a plush coat German Shepherd who was awarded Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme Gold Award - the highest level of achievement.
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