Dogs are pack animals.  You do not need to “let them be their own person” and “express themselves.”  It’s not good for them.  They feel much more comfortable knowing where they stand in the pecking order of the pack, which needs to be below you.  I don’t care if you teach your dog any other command besides “leave it.”  This command can save their life.

What it needs to mean is: stop what you are doing and look at me.  Leave it.  Stop chasing after that squirrel into on-coming traffic.  Leave it.  Don’t growl at Aunt Bertha or that little kid.  Leave it.  Stop sniffing at that rat bait.  Don’t pick up that huge piece of dark chocolate I just dropped on the floor.  Leave it.  That skunk doesn’t want to be your friend.  And neither does the porcupine.  Or the copperhead.  Leave it.  I think you get my drift.  When you say “leave it,” all other aspects of your dog’s life need to cease and they need to be 100% focused on you.  You are the pack leader and you may be sensing danger or you may just need their attention.  It doesn’t matter what your reasoning may be, they cannot question it or doubt you. LEAVE IT.

How do you know if your dog is trying to be the leader of your pack?  They are ignoring your command to “come” and refusing to eat what you give him so that you offer him something else.  Who would eat Pedigree when you can get steak?  Small dogs pester until they are picked up, can choose to jump on/off furniture or even crawl under the blankets on people’s beds.  Larger dogs might paw at you until you pet them or jump up on you.  Sure, some of the behavior I’m describing sounds cute.  And it sure is funny when our new puppy growls at people when he’s playing, right?  When your dog barks at you, is he being cute?  When you tell him to stop, does he?  If he continues barking, he’s just yelling back at you.  Trust me, I know first-hand.  One of my dogs does that and it’s annoying and it’s a learned behavior that I have not been able to break him off since we’ve been “yelling” at each other for over 5 years now.  But you know what?  When I tell him LEAVE IT, he does.