Impulse control requires patience, and Leave It (sometimes called «Off») is a very powerful impulse control exercise. It involves having the dog turn away from something that he is interested in and make eye contact with you instead. An excellent way to jump-start this behavior is through a «Doggy Zen» exercise. (Doggy Zen: In order to have the treat, you must leave the treat.)

  1. Have a handful of super-exciting treats and one rather boring treat available. Put the boring treat in one hand and the good treats in a pouch or container behind your back. Present the boring treat to your dog in a closed fist (so she can smell it, but can’t get to it). Allow your dog to lick and sniff your hand, and try to get to the treat.
  2. The moment your dog backs away from your treat/hand a tiny bit, mark the moment with a click or a «Yes!» and give your dog one of the super-good treats from your other hand. Be very patient; the first try or two can take several minutes before a dog gives up and backs away.
  3. Once your dog understands the game and quickly backs away from the treat in your fist, change it up a little by switching which hand is holding the boring treat. Again, reward with the yummy treat from your other hand.
  4. Once your dog easily backs away from a boring treat in either hand, pause a moment after your dog backs away from the treat (without immediately marking or rewarding the behavior). Watch your dog carefully; almost always, after a few moments of not getting the expected reward, dogs will look at your face for information, trying to figure out why they haven’t been rewarded yet. The moment he offers that eye contact, click (or «Yes!») and reward him.
  5. When your dog easily backs off a treat and subsequently makes eye contact with you each time, add a verbal cue such as «Leave it.» Present the treat first, and when your dog takes notice, say «Leave it,» and click/»Yes!» and reward when your dog makes eye contact.
  6. Practice «Leave it» while placing the treat on the floor. Make sure you can cover it quickly with your foot if your dog makes a move for it!
  7. Take the cue on the road, and practice with different items such as a favorite toy, or a distraction like an interesting smell or the sight of another dog.

For more advice on ways to train your dog to be calm, purchase Calm Down Rover! Teach Your High-Energy Dog to Chill Out & Relax from Whole Dog Journal.