is a great command for your dog to know, because it will keep him from getting into things he shouldn’t have, it will teach him to pay better attention to you, and it will solidify your status as “leader of the pack.”
Here’s how to do it:
Gather a handful of small, yummy treats your dog really likes and doesn’t get to eat very often. The pieces should be easily swallowable (if he has to chew them, they are too big). Put your dog on a leash, and take him to a room he spends lots of time in.
Put his favorite toy on the floor a few feet away from you. Draw up the leash so that he cannot reach the toy, but can see it. Walk him towards the toy, and when he leans over to sniff it or grab it, say “leave it” in a firm voice to get his attention. Use the leash to keep him from actually coming in contact with the toy. AS SOON AS he pauses, or if he looks at you when you give the command, quickly pop a treat in his mouth. Continue walking past the toy, then circle around and try it again. Do not allow him to even get close enough to sniff the toy, but REWARD him with one treat every time he pauses, looks to you, or otherwise acts uninterested in the toy AFTER you give the command.
The goal is to entice him, give the command, and then reward him for paying attention to you instead of the toy. He must be rewarded IMMEDIATELY for not pulling at the leash to get the toy.
Do not yank him away from the toy with the leash, simply hold it close to your body. We want it to be slack enough so that he has room to START towards the toy (if he chooses), but not enough room to touch it.
We want the dog to learn that HIS action (ignoring the toy and looking at you) got him what he wanted (the reward), which in this case is a treat. You will have better success if he is hungry, so practice prior to dinner time, and then his dinner will be an added treat, because he worked for it. Make sure the toy is one he likes and wants to play with at that moment.
After you’ve practiced this 5 times, and had 5 successes, quit until the next day. Feed him dinner. The next day, ask the dog to sit, and toss the toy a few feet away, while giving the command. He will probably lunge towards the toy, but the leash will stop his progress. AS SOON AS he stops, get him to look at you, then reward him. Verbally praise him at the same time you are giving him the tasty treat.
Gradually, you will be able to decrease the treats (but always verbally praise). You can eventually stop the treats altogether, and use the toy as his reward. To do this, have him sit next to you. Throw the toy a few feet away, and verbally praise him for not moving towards the toy. Count to 5, then say, “get ball” or “get toy” and allow him enough slack to do so. Let him mouth the toy for a few seconds, then take it away and repeat the exercise.
Practice on leash until he is reliable enough to not lunge for the toy until you say so. Then try without the leash. Remember, during training, every time he is allowed to get the toy, that is a reward, so make sure he’s not being rewarded UNTIL he has waited for you to release him. If you don’t have the leash on him, you cannot keep him from rewarding himself.
After he is very reliable with this in the house, begin using the command outside during walks (on leash, of course). When he goes to sniff or eat something in the street, give the command, stop his progress with the leash, and praise enthusiastically when he obeys. Do NOT let him have the item; use your praise as a reward, then move on.
Practice in different situations, until he is VERY reliable in all of them, then start using a yummy food item as the object (simply replace the toy in the preceding lessons with a stinky piece of food). When your dog (off leash) will refrain from scarfing up a piece of steak that has dropped on the floor because you commanded “leave it,” you will have trained him well. If you want him to have the dropped piece, make him wait a few minutes, in a sit, then give the command “get it.” Do not allow him to break the command himself, so don’t leave the room until after you tell him to “get it.”
Practice also getting him to “leave” a toy he is chewing or playing with by giving the command, and rewarding profusely when he drops it. Be ready to take the item away at first (enforce the command). At first, always reward his correct action, whether he dropped it on his own or you had to take it away. THEN only reward him when he does it on his own.
Your dog will learn that his action causes good things to occur. The reward must be something he wants more than the item he is chewing.