One of the pleasures of owning a dog is teaching him how to play games involving the both of you. Playing ‘fetch’ is probably the most widely recognized dog/owner game. And teaching the dog is fairly easy.
Easy enough unless you have a dog who hasn’t learned to drop the item being fetched. You have tried everything. Treats, praise, punishment, nothing makes the dog want to ‘drop it.’
It sounds like a simple task. Release whatever is in their mouth by a single verbal command. Teaching a dog to properly drop an object on cue is like teaching them anything else. Time, patients, consistency, and treats.
It’s also a good task to learn when they have something toxic, or otherwise dangerous in their mouth. Dogs are like small children. Just when you think they can’t get into anything dangerous…well you get the idea. Learning the ‘drop’ command might just save their life someday.
Let’s say you have a dog very capable of playing fetch. He ‘fetches’ anything you throw. And keeps it. Or better yet totally runs away with it.
Today we will look into the issue of, teaching a dog how to ‘drop it.’ Soon enough, your dog will be as good at ‘dropping’ as he is at ‘fetching!’
He may need a reason to drop it
Start the drop it routine with the dog’s favorite toy or specific fetching stick. Hold it up to your dog and get him to take it from you in his mouth. Do it while saying ‘take it’ and do it several times until he gets the idea.
When you feel the dog has mastered the take it commands, switches gears. When the dog takes the object and is sitting in front of you, offer a treat. He will then have a reason to drop the object in order to get the treat.
Add in the verbal command, ‘drop it’, and soon as he masters the drop for a treat, simply remove the treat. The dog will begin to associate drop it means a reward. Whether or not the reward is even present.
Now get him to ‘leave it’
As soon as you feel confident the dog will release on command, change the reward mechanism. As the dog drops the object, his first reaction when it’s dropped will be to pick it up again. “If I have to drop it again maybe I will get a treat!” Has to be going on in his little furry mind.
When the dog tries to pick the object back up, tell him to ‘leave it.’ When he reacts the way you want him to, then offer the treat. Same treat. The different tasks to get the treat.
As the dog progresses do the same again. Remove the treat. Teaching the ‘drop it’ command is a bit easier than the ‘leave it’ command.
For whatever reason dogs respond in a more timely manner to drop it. Leave it, just takes a bit more time to get the idea. Consistency is key. And the bulk pack of treats of course!
Integrate the fetching
When your dog has these two commands in check, sprinkle in some ‘fetch time.’ If all has gone well, your game of fetch should run a bit smoother. If not repeat the new verbal command training until he does so.
Your dog may have it etched in his brain to automatically run away with the fetch toy. Now maybe an opportunity to give him a brand new fetch toy. The behavior you are trying to correct may be impossible.
The old fetch toy reminds him of his old ways. New toy, a new procedure, same fun.
Do not force the object loose
If the drop it training proves to be difficult, and it can never use force to remove the object. Until you can get the dog to release on his own, you can’t do much training.
If the dog refuses to drop it, don’t force him to remove it. When you suddenly grab an object in a dog’s mouth to get him to release it, his jaw will lock. When the jaw locks the dog may turn very defensive. Then you may have yourself a dog bite to deal with.
Never force a dog to drop something. Do all of your training with a firm yet subtle voice. You don’t want to sound threatening.
Integrate ‘drop it’ into everything
Another idea to reinforce the drop it commands is to use it when the dog is not playing. When he is just sitting around doing his dog bit, tell him to ‘drop it’ referring to whatever he has in his mouth.
It could be anything. A piece of paper, a small toy, your cell phone, whatever. Teaching them the command in their everyday routine will make them all the quicker to adapt to the behavior.
The same goes for ‘leave it’
Also, use the ‘leave it’ command every day. Repetition is what will teach them and applying it to their every move will get you the desired result.
Teaching these commands will be well worth it when the dog decides to run off with one of your valuables. Or something from the trash. Or some dead animal they just slaughtered.
In these cases, all you want from them is to ‘drop it and leave it’ alone!
Be very patient
As you start to teach your dog how to ‘drop it’ don’t expect them to master it the first day. Or the second. Or the third. Some dogs take longer than others to attain new behavior patterns.
It doesn’t mean you have a stubborn dog. It means you have to be very patient and don’t set your expectations so high either. Consistent training with a patient trainer who has a pocket full of treats is all he needs!
Teaching a dog the drop it command is one of the most important commands you can teach them. We have already mentioned it just might save their life.
When all is said and done, give yourself a treat! You deserve it!