Teaching your dog to drop items from her mouth is a useful and necessary skill, especially for city dogs. There are so many hazardous things on the street, it is easy for your dog to pick up something that is bad for her. You may have tried to teach your dog a cue that means she should drop items, but you might find that your dog is reluctant to respond when the item is very high value. If this is the case it is possible that your dog thinks “drop it” means you are going to take something away from her. It is important when training this cue to allow your dog to have a toy or treat that is safe for her to keep, because in the beginning you absolutely do not want to take the item away! “Drop it” does not mean you are going to take the item away. If your dog has resource guarding issues please visit one of my resource guarding blogs, but do not continue with this training method if you have seen resource guarding in your dog.
You want to think of your “drop it” practice as deposits in the bank; overtime you can trade your dog, or give your dog a reward for letting something go from her mouth, this is a deposit in her bank. This way if you find yourself without anything to trade and your dog grabs a chicken bone on the street, you have enough deposits to make this withdrawal! You should not believe that simply because you gave your dog an item this means you should just be able to take it away at any time; this is not true for any of your human relationships, and you probably like your dog better than a lot of humans!
“Drop it” as a cue for your dog should only mean she has to release what is in her mouth. To properly train this cue, without poisoning it, you must practice with a toy or item your dog can safely continue to chew on. To begin get several tasty treats and allow your dog to begin to chew on a treat or toy.
- Walk passed your dog and drop a treat near her toy as you pass, you don’t have to say anything. Repeat several times, until your dog looks up at you eagerly as you approach, or even follows you.
- Approach your dog and reach for the toy, but instead of taking it, leave a treat behind. Repeat this several times until your dog is excited for you to approach.
- Say “drop it” to your dog, just once, then approach, trade her for a treat, and walk away, leaving her with the toy! This is key; DO NOT TAKE THE TOY AWAY!
- Repeat step 3 until your dog will respond to the “drop it” cue before you present the treat, but still reward her at the end! Remember these rewards are your bank deposits, so keep on saving up!
- Each day, or each new practice session, start from step 1, even if it takes you less time to progress.
Chirag Patel created a wonderful youtube video about teaching drop it, in this video you can see that when he begins to teach “drop it” he doesn’t even use an item, but instead gets the dog used to hearing the verbal cue “drop it” and opening his mouth, and being reinforced and rewarded by finding tasty treats on the ground. This is a great visual aid in teaching this cue to your dog.
It is a good idea to practice twice a day for no more than 5 minutes each session; always ending on a good note but not pushing too far! Even if you don’t complete all 5 steps in 5 minutes, quit where you are and try again later. It is important not to push it. If at any point you feel your dog is resource guarding the item, please stop this method and seek professional help.