If you've been looking for an easy way to teach your dog to drop items when you ask, you've come to the right place! This training can be potentially lifesaving for your dog; in an emergency situation where your dog has grabbed something poisonous or otherwise dangerous, having a reliable "drop" cue is critical.
Before we jump into the training protocol, it's important to note that the tips we give here are not intended for dogs that resource guard items – use this blog if you have a resource guarding dog.
How Do You Begin to Teach Your Dog to Drop Items?
The first step of this training begins with nothing in your dog's mouth. Yes, you read that correctly! Nothing in your dog's mouth. Rather than trying to get something out of your dog's mouth before they've truly learned how to "drop," we will create a strong association with the word and then pair that word with the action we want.
You'll need food that your dog loves for this exercise. If your dog isn't excited about your training treats, try some string cheese or shredded chicken.
Here are your first steps:
- With your dog sitting or standing in front of you, say "drop!" in a pleasant tone.
- Immediately after saying the word (not at the same time), spill several pieces of food on the ground and point them out to your dog. (We want to get them used to your hands potentially being near the dropped item, to help prevent any guarding from developing!
- Repeat this exercise until your dog noticeably orients to the sound of the word "drop." We're looking for a tail wag, perked ears, licking the lips, etc. This can take at least a day or two!
- We typically recommend doing this exercise for an entire week – practice this inside (in various rooms of the house) as well as outside. You can't overdo it!
Believe it or not, this is the bulk of the training! Remember: our focus here is to create a powerful, positive association with the word "drop."
Now, how do we introduce items?
Once your dog has clearly made a positive association with the word "drop," it's time to start to teach your dog to drop items that aren't highly valuable to them.
- Have your food rewards ready, but out of sight. If your dog knows you have food, you'll have a harder time getting them to pick up any items.
- Wait until your dog picks up a toy (you can encourage them!) and then say "drop!" in that same pleasant tone you've been practicing. Say the word only once.
- As you say the word, back several steps away from your dog. This part is critical! We're removing your body pressure from your dog.
- Your dog should drop the item instantaneously. Praise and reward immediately.
- You can collect the item sometimes, but when it's safe to do so, let your dog have it back. Taking the item away every time can diminish your success.
- Practice with easy items both inside outside before moving on.
What about items that are harder for my dog to drop?
We only want to begin working with more challenging items once your dog has demonstrated clear success in the previous steps.
Once your dog is ready, you can begin practicing with more difficult items, like bones, dish towels, paper towels, or even food. If you check out the video included with this blog, you'll see Trainer Taylor's dog drop a hot dog!
How is this possible?
Because with this training plan, we're creating an automated response rather than using a trade. With a trade, your dog will always be seeking something of equal or lesser value than what they have, and that can get complicated!
A few more tips to help you and your dog be successful:
- Once your dog is dropping things like a pro, it can be tempting to overuse this. But if your dog is asked to constantly drop the things they're picking up, it can become nagging and you may lose consistency from your dog.
- Be sure that in a real-life situation where you need your dog to drop something urgently, keep your tone and your body language the same. If you sound angry or loom over your dog as you ask them to drop, they will likely run away with the item or refuse to let it go. Step back and keep your tone pleasant.
- If your dog is unsuccessful in dropping an item, go back to an easier step for a few repetitions, and try increasing the value of the reward you're using. If it's an emergency, you can trade your dog for something else.
- Avoid playing keep-away games with your dog at other times, as this can send mixed messages.
If you need help with your dog's training, we offer private and group dog training sessions in the Atlanta, Georgia area. We also offer online dog training to clients all over the world. Contact us if you'd like more information.