Dogs get into things they shouldn’t. They pick up dead animals and try to eat garbage. Although you should train a solid “leave it” cue to tell your dog to leave certain things alone, you might not always notice what your dog is doing until it’s too late. Therefore, an equally important behavior to teach is “Drop It.” This cue tells your dog to immediately drop whatever they have in their mouth. Sometimes this will simply be to prevent an annoyance like your dog stealing your shoe. But at other times this cue can be lifesaving such as when your dog picks up dropped medication or toxic food like chocolate.
Why You Should Teach “Drop It”
“Drop It” allows you to get items away from your dog without having to run after them. In fact, as most dogs love the game of chase, this will only increase the likelihood of your dog taking forbidden things in the future. They quickly learn it’s a great way to start what they see as a fun way to play with you. Chasing your dog also increases the chance they will swallow the object to prevent you from getting it first. Even non-toxic items can pose a choking hazard or create an intestinal blockage.
Nor should you ever have to pry your dog’s mouth open to retrieve an object. That puts you at risk of a bite and again may persuade your dog to swallow the object. Fighting with your dog over anything can also lead to problems with resource guarding down the road. If your dog already shows issues with guarding objects, consult a dog trainer or animal behaviorist for help before beginning any of the following exercises.
Teaching your dog to drop items on cue is also a useful component of fetch as it helps your dog bring objects back to your hand rather than leaving them on the floor for you to retrieve. And finally, “drop it” is perfect for trick training. You can have your dog putting their toys in their toy box or playing dog-sized basketball in no time if they understand how to drop things on cue.
How to Teach “Drop It” With a Treat
The trick to training your dog to drop items is to make it all about trading – give them something else in exchange. In addition, during the training process, you will also give the original item back again. Although you would never do that with something dangerous, this teaches your dog that “drop it” is a double bonus. They get a reward for dropping the object and then they get to play with the object some more. That makes trading incredibly enticing. Here are the steps for training “drop it” with treats:
- Offer your dog a low-value toy. It should be something they have an interest in but don’t feel overly excited about. You want to make it easy for them to give it up.
- Let your dog play with the toy for a few seconds.
- Place a high-value treat in front of your dog’s nose. If you chose a low enough value toy and an exciting enough treat, your dog should willingly drop the toy in exchange. As soon as your dog drops the toy, praise or use a clicker to mark the behavior, then give your dog the treat.
- While your dog is eating the treat, pick up the toy and hide it behind your back.
- Once your dog is finished eating, present the toy again and repeat the process.
- When you know your dog will drop the item as soon as you show the treat, you can add a verbal cue like “drop it,” “trade,” or “out.”
- After several repetitions, give your cue without showing the treats. If your dog drops the item, click and praise and provide a jackpot reward (many treats in a row) to convince them how great it is to play this game. If your dog doesn’t drop the item without seeing the treats, try waiting one second between saying your cue and showing the treats. Then slowly increase that time across repetitions until your dog understands to drop the item before the treats come out.
If you run into trouble with this technique, here are a few troubleshooting tips. First, if your dog runs away with the toy, do this training with them on leash so they have to stay with you. Second, you don’t want to race your dog to the toy after they drop it. If your dog is trying to get it back before you can get your hands on it, try tossing the treat a few feet away to buy you time to get the toy. Or throw several treats on the floor to keep your dog occupied.
How to Teach “Drop It” With a Toy
You can also teach your dog to trade items with toys only. Some dogs simply aren’t food motivated, but even for those that are, these games can help reinforce the lesson. You can repeat the exercise above but instead of offering a treat, offer another toy. If your dog is reluctant to trade, play with the new toy and act as if it’s the greatest thing you’ve ever seen. Your dog is sure to drop the original toy in favor of this exciting new object.
Tug-of-war is another great way to teach “drop it.” Simply present the toy and start playing. After a few seconds, go still. Your dog will eventually get bored of playing alone and will drop the toy. When they do, praise them then reward them with another game of tug. Once your dog is dropping the toy as soon as you go still, you’re ready to add the verbal cue. You can do the same type of training with a flirt pole (a toy tied to a string on the end of a pole).
Now that your dog understands the “drop it” cue, anytime they have something they shouldn’t, ask them to drop the item then reward them with a treat or acceptable toy or chew bone. If you practiced enough, your dog will happily drop the forbidden item to trade for something better.