You’re walking in the park and suddenly you see something hanging out of your dog’s mouth. Is it a dead animal? A chicken bone? You’re in the family room at home and you watch as your dog grabs one of your kid’s small plastic toys. Your first instinct is to run over and try and wrestle it out of his mouth. If he’s a small puppy you have a chance, but what if he’s not? Swallowing something he shouldn’t could cause all kinds of health issues, and sadly sometimes even death. This is not meant to scare you, only to help you realize the importance of this dog training command.
One very easy way to teach your dog “drop it” is to give him a toy he likes enough to take in his mouth, but not so much he won’t let it go. When you give it to him say “take it,” and now show him another toy he likes more. When he drops the first one say “drop it” and when you give him the new one say “take it.” Yes it is as simple as that, but only if you practice… a lot!
Why is it important to teach your dog to drop something?
I mentioned it briefly at the beginning of this article, but it’s such an important thing to teach your dog it’s worth mentioning again. Don’t rely on being able to pry your dog’s mouth open, stick your hand in and pull out whatever is in there. Building a good relationship with your dog involves communication, so it’s always better for you to ask him to do something, and let him respond. It’s the way he learns.
Method One – Take it, Drop it
◊ Give your dog a toy he likes enough to take in his mouth, but not so much he won’t let it go. When you give it to him say “take it.”
◊ You need to have a second toy of higher value that you will give your dog as a reward for dropping the first, lower value toy. This is important because when he lets go of the first item, the reward for doing that is this higher value item.
◊ Show him the other toy. When he drops the first one say “drop it” and when you give him the new one say “take it.”
◊ Practice this a couple of times a day in short sessions so he doesn’t get bored. Once he’s doing well, you can start gradually introducing higher value toys, meaning toys it will be harder for him to let go of. Why is this important? Because one day he might get his hand on food that is known to be toxic to dogs, a big bar of chocolate for example, or a chicken bone in the park that could splinter once he’s swallowed it. The more practice he has with the “drop it” command, the more likely he will let go of something that could do him harm.
◊ At some point during this training your dog will be holding onto something he loves enough, it will be a challenge to get him to drop it. If that happens simply get up and walk away. Grab another toy and start playing with it where he can see you. The chances are high he’ll come over, because he won’t be able to resist seeing what you’re doing. If he has the toy he wouldn’t let go of in his mouth say “drop it” when he drops the toy and “take it” when you give up the one you were playing with.
Method Two – Treats
◊ Before you begin, make sure you have some really high value treats, meaning those your dog really loves.
◊ When your dog already has a toy in his mouth, put the treat in front of his nose
◊ When he drops the toy say “yes” in an excited voice, and give him the treat
◊ Practice that several times until he understands what’s going on
◊ Now you’re going to add the verbal cue
◊ Hold the treat in front of his face and when he drops the toy say “drop it” and reward with the treat
Method Three – Tug of war
◊ Use a rope toy as it’s easy for you and your dog to each grab an end. Once your dog is holding onto it start playing tug of war with him for a couple of minutes.
◊ Next step would be to keep hold of your end but stop playing. The purpose of this is to get him to “drop it” so you can start teaching that command. Stopping play and making it boring will cause your dog to let the toy go. He may do it right away, it may take a few seconds or even a couple of minutes but that’s okay, wait as long as it takes. As soon as he lets it go say “yes” to let him know how happy you are he listened and start playing tug of war again.
◊ Repeat several times
◊ Now you’re going to introduce the cue of “drop it.” After playing for a bit stop and wait for him to let go as you did above, but now say the words “drop it” when he lets it go. Give him the toy right away since that is the reward for listening, and keep playing.
◊ Repeat several times
What to do in case of emergency
You’ve heard someone has been putting down poisonous meat in the park lately (yes people do that) and you’ve noticed some kind of food in your dog’s mouth. Out of the corner of your eye you noticed your dog has snatched a small toy or any other scenario that has potential danger written all over it. What do you do when the words “drop it” are falling on deaf ears?
Here are some things you can try, but more training is need so you can hopefully avoid an emergency scenario in the future.
◊ Before you leave for your walk bring some food he absolutely loves. In my case my dog goes crazy if I even think of cheese. Having that with you, just in case, can be all you need to get him to drop what’s in his mouth and opt for your offerings instead.
◊ Remember in method one we talked about what to do if your dog will not drop what he has in his mouth? I recommended walking away and finding a toy to play with in his line of sight. The same suggestion may work in this case, but you’ll need to get animated about it. Toss it around, make it look like he’s missing out on something big by not coming over. Chances are he won’t be able to resist, and you’ll get your chance to recover what he has in his mouth.
◊ If your dog is like all of mine have been, simply walking into the kitchen and rustling some bags is enough to make them come running. Toss a few pieces of something tempting into their bowl or right near where they’re standing. Once they drop the item and go for the food, quickly pick up what they’ve let go of, or kick it out of reach if you think he may get aggressive.
◊ If you’re outside, bend down and make it look like you’ve found the most fascinating thing in the grass, and get excited about it as well. If your dog is curious enough he’ll come over and be distracted enough to drop what’s in his mouth. This might be the time to offer him one of those treats you’ve brought along with you.
◊ What about falling back on some of the training you’ve done? Teaching him to sit, come and lay down all involved rewarding with treats. Why not try that now and see what happens?
◊ Depending on what he has in his mouth, is it possible for you to hold onto one end of it? He may think you’re about to play a game of tug of war, so use that to your advantage. Hold onto one end but don’t move, just hold your hand stationary. If you make it boring, your dog should let go. Ordinarily if you were playing tug of war the reward would be giving him back what he was playing with, but of course since the goal was to get the object out of his mouth, he can have a treat instead.
If none of these tricks are working, I know you’ll be tempted to grab the item out of his mouth, but not only does this put you at risk of being bitten, even seriously, it could actually make him swallow the item or choke on it. You’ll have to decide if trying to wrestle it out of his mouth is the right decision in those circumstances.
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