Training a Cocker Spaniel to 'Leave It'!

Training a cocker spaniel to 'Leave It!' could one day save your little puppy from serious harm.  Imagine all the nasties that an inquisitive puppy may pick up in his mouth, (such as the rotting carcass of a rabbit!). Read on to learn how to teach your puppy the 'Leave It!' and walk on by.

Training a Cocker Spaniel to 'Leave It!'

7 Easy Steps

Training a Cocker Spaniel to 'Leave It' and walk on, is probably one of the most important things you'll ever teach your pet. I think you'll be surprised at how often you use it!

There are many situations inside your home where you might want to use this command. For example, your puppy is about to chew on an electrical cord, (yikes!) or you catch him making his way towards your best pair of shoes or your favourite handbag.

Golden Cocker spaniel puppy being trained, wearing red neck-chief. Cute!What's next Mum?

Outdoors, the command may be used to stop your puppy from approaching a young child, an injured bird, or drinking from a dirty puddle, eating spoiled and rotten food from rubbish bins, or eating poisonous plantsThe list is almost endless!

The 'Leave It'! command will stop him in his tracks. Your pup will learn that he's not to sniff, pick up, or bite what's currently caught his interest.

There are several progressive stages to training a puppy to obey this command and they're set out below. 

Take each one a step at a time and don't rush move on only when you feel your puppy is ready.

Good luck!

Step 1: First Train Your Puppy To 'Take It'!

Yes, I know it sounds contradictory, but trust me, it works. This will teach your puppy to understand when he is given 'permission' to have something. 

Ready? Let's go!

  • Find a quiet spot and ask your pup to sit.

  • Let your puppy see you placing a treat in your hand.  Close your fist around the treat, palm facing upwards. Allow your puppy sniff your hand for the treat but don't give it to him just yet.
  • As soon as he stops sniffing, looks away, moves his head away from the treat, or looks at you, open your hand and let him have it. 

  • As he takes the treat say, 'take it' and give him lots of praise. 

  • Repeat the above exercise until you are certain that your puppy understands that he is being rewarded for moving or looking away from the treat. 

When training a cocker spaniel puppy, be sure to reward him with lots of praise and pats as well as his treat when he gets it right.

This exercise will help your Cocker to link the words 'take it' with being allowed to have the treat (but only on your say so). He will begin to wait, anticipating your giving him the relevant instruction.

He may drool a little, but that's okay!

Step 2: Training A Cocker Spaniel To 'Leave It!'

Once your puppy has fully mastered step 1, you can begin to train your puppy to 'Leave It!'. 

Here's how:

  • Put a treat in your hand, close it and offer your closed fist to your puppy. He'll probably move towards it and try to get at the treat inside. 

  • This time, when he looks away from your hand or moves his head away, say the words, 'Leave It!' Now you want your puppy to establish a link between his moving (or looking) away from your hand and the words, 'leave it!'.

  • Reward him if he gets it right. However, don't give him the original treat in your closed fist. Give him a treat from your other hand. Don't forget to use the 'take it!' command when you reward him. 

  • Practice this exercise several times each day for 2 to 3 days.

Step 3: Training a Cocker Spaniel to 'Leave It'

Only move on to this step when you're confident that your pup has thoroughly learned step 2.

  • Place a treat in your hand, close your fist and move it towards your dog. As you're moving toward him, give him the command to 'Leave It!'. Don't wait for him to move toward you and move away again. Give the command at the same time as you move your hand towards him.
  • If he responds immediately, ie he looks away, reward him with a treat from your other hand. It's important that you don't give your puppy the treat from your closed hand.  I'll explain why later.

  • Practice a few times to help him understand that a closed fist (and the 'leave it!' command) means he can't have that particular treat. Eventually, he should begin to ignore your hand. 

  • As with all puppy training, make sure you practice this at different times of the day, in different rooms, and ask other members of the family and friends to do this exercise.

  • When he's ready, move on to step 4.

Step 4: Training a Cocker Spaniel to 'Leave It!'

  • At your next training session, place a treat or a piece of food onto the floor. If your puppy moves towards it, place your hand or foot over the treat to stop him getting it.
  • If he looks at you (and not the food), give him a treat from your other hand or your pocket and tell him to 'take it'. You are rewarding him for looking at you and ignoring the food under your hand or foot.

It's important to repeat this exercise often to strengthen your puppy's training and only move on to Step 5 when you feel he's ready.

Important Note: Always reward your dog with a treat from your other hand or your pocket to make sure he doesn't come to expect to be given the treat from the floor each time.

There will be many situations where this conditioning will come in handy.

For example, imagine your dog stumbles across a dead rat outdoors. You don't want to condition him to believe that he'll be rewarded with the rat because he obeyed your command!

Step 5: Teaching a Cocker Spaniel to 'Leave It!'

Let's make it a little more difficult for him, shall we?

  • Place three or four treats in a line on the floor and tell your puppy to 'Leave It!'.
  • If he doesn't make any attempt to touch the treats, give him a treat from your pocket. Don't let him pick up the treats from the floor.

  • Pick up the treats and place them on the floor again in another spot.

  • Reward your dog again if he stays put!

  • Continue practicing this training until your puppy gets it right every time.

Use the 'Take It' command each time you give your Cocker Spaniel a treat, even if he's not 'in training'. 

Step 6: Training a Cocker Spaniel to 'Leave It!' Whilst on Leash

The final part of this training exercise is designed to teach your puppy to follow your 'Leave It' command whilst on a lead.

  • Put your puppy on a lead before walking him past a treat on the floor. He may try to sniff it; if he does, tell him to 'Leave It'.
  • As soon as he looks at you, or walks on past the treat, praise him and give him a treat from your hand.

  • Practice this many times until your dog no longer hesitates. Vary this exercise with objects other than food treats, such as his favourite toy.

Step 7: Training a Cocker Spaniel  to 'Leave It!' Outdoors

When your puppy has mastered the 'Leave It!' command indoors, it's time to take his training outside where there'll be lots of distractions and smells.

Your puppy is more likely to come across things you don't want him to pick up outdoors, so his training will be more realistic. 

Repeat all the above exercises outside and practice them often and your puppy will be less likely to pick up that dead rat I mentioned earlier!

Puppy Training Tips

When training your puppy, it's important to take your time and to praise him when he gets it rightThis will let him know that he's doing what you want him to do.

Don't reward your puppy if he gets it wrongInstead, give him a 'verbal sign' that he got it wrong, for example, say 'No', 'Too Bad', or 'Ah Ah'. Use it every time he gets it wrong and he'll soon understand what's going on.

Don't get annoyed if your Cocker Spaniel gets it wrongDon't shout at him, keep it low key and move on. Pick up the treat and try again in a few minutes.

The exercises on this page are also suitable to use for training adult dogs. The results may take a little longer to achieve, so you'll need to be patient.

But don't leave it there, you must continue training your puppy from time to time to strengthen his learning otherwise he may forget, and all your (and his) hard work will have been wasted.

Practice, patience and perseverance are the keys to successfully training your Cocker Spaniel. 

Training a Cocker Spaniel to Drop It!

Great! Your puppy now understands the 'Leave It!' instruction.

However, Cockers will be Cockers and sometimes it may be too late to give this command. He may already have something in his mouth that you don't want him to have, such as a dead rat!

Thankfully, your can teach your puppy to 'Drop It!'. Whatever he has in his mouth will fall to the floor, immediately.

Well, that's the plan!

Max, my golden cocker spaniel sitting in the shade of an apple tree.

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Photo Credits  for Training a cocker spaniel to Leave It!
1. Michelle De Kock at