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Why to teach a dog to “drop it”?

So Why to teach a dog to “drop it”?  you ask?

If you have a young puppy, you know the answer to this – it’s because they frequently have something valuable or dangerous in their mouths! The goal is that when you cue “drop it”, your dog will open her mouth releasing whatever was in there and allow you to retrieve the item.

It is very important to make sure your dog is making a good bargain with you for her prize (you give her a good treat) and that you stay calm and don’t chase her. If this is taught correctly, your dog will be happy to hear you say “drop it”. If your dog isn’t happy to hear “drop it” for all items yet, then it is best keep those items out of reach until you have practised with them.

This exercise is also important because it can prevent food guarding. If your dog knows that you do not “steal” she will not worry about you approaching favourite items.

Teaching “drop it”:

1. Get together a few items your dog might like to chew on, your clicker and some good treats like cheese or turkey. (I’m sure you now have your dog’s attention!)

2. Have a piece of food ready in your other hand as you encourage your dog to chew on one of the objects. Once she has her mouth on it, put a piece of food close to her nose and say “drop it”. Click when she opens her mouth and feed her the treat as you pick up the item with your other hand. Return the item to her.

3. Try to get her to pick up the object again so you can continue practising, but beware that once your dog knows there are treats involved she may want to keep her mouth free for eating! In this case, keep your treats handy throughout the day and whenever you see her randomly pick up an object or toy you can practice. Aim for at least 10 repetitions per day. Occasionally you will not be able to give her the object back (if she’s found a forbidden object), but that’s okay just be sure to give her an extra nice treat.

4. Once you’ve completed about 10 repetitions, repeat the process in #2 exactly, but this time you will be sneaky and won’t actually have the treat in the hand that you put close to her nose (I call this “empty fingers”). She will most likely drop the object anyway and you can click and get the treat out of your pouch. Give her the equivalent of 3 treats the first time you use empty fingers and she drops the item.

5. After a few days of practising, try it with a tasty item. Get a carrot or hard chew. Hold it in your hand and offer the other side of the item to your dog to chew on – but don’t let go! Let her put her mouth on it and then cue “drop it”. Give her the equivalent of 3 treats the first time she does this and offer her the object again. If your dog won’t retake the item, just put it away and practice another time. Get 10 reps of this before going on to step 6.

6. Now get your hard chew again and some really fresh yummy treats (meat or cheese). This time you will offer the object to your dog and let go and then right away cue “drop it”. When she does give her the equivalent of 10 of your extra yummy treats and THEN give her the item to keep. If she doesn’t release the item, try showing her your treat first and if that doesn’t work, just let her have it and try again later with a lower value food-related item. You will be able to build up to the highest value items once your dog realises it is worth her while to listen.

7. Practice the “drop it” with real-life objects around that she enjoys but are not allowed such as: tissues, pens (begin with an empty one), wrappers, shoes, etc. Then practice this outside!

Tips:

  • If your dog already enjoys grabbing objects and having a game of chase, you should begin by teaching her that you will not chase her. Just ignore her and then she will probably drop the item on her own once she is bored of it. You can also try distracting her by ringing the doorbell or knocking on the door.
  • If your dog will not drop a dangerous item, even for a yummy treat (or if you don’t have one at the moment – shame on you!) place your fingers on the lips of her upper jaw where her canines are and push in and pull up. This will open her mouth so you can retrieve the item. Make sure you give her a big reward (even if you’re frustrated) for allowing this invasive treatment and keep that item out of reach in the future until you are ready to teach her to drop it.
  • It’s okay to show her a treat (bribe her) if she has a forbidden item that is higher in value than what she has been training with. Be careful not to make a habit of this!
  • Practice “drop it” during tug and fetch games.

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