Tips for teaching a solid “Drop it!

It’s that time of year again when the weather starts to warm up, everyone is out and about, and the wildlife is abound. Suddenly that leisurely trip to the park with your pooch becomes a dreaded nightmare, as it is laced with constant distractions on the ground… Distractions that your dog sees as delicacies, such as litter and geese droppings.

Some more harmful than others, I have had to pull all sorts of things out of dog’s mouths, including but not limited to: sticks, rocks, chicken bones, a dead bird, a moldy pulled pork sandwich, cigarette buds, you name it. The habit of picking up things in their mouths could be dangerous to our dogs, and even make them very ill. I know a dog who almost died choking on a large piece of stick he hoovered up. I’ve assisted in foreign body surgeries when a dog swallowed something it shouldn’t. The poop-eating pooches out there often suffer from various intestinal parasites. And I’ve seen plenty of dogs, including my own, that have gotten sick to their stomach from their poor choices.

So what can we as owners do to ensure our dog’s safety? Teach a very solid “Drop it!” command, so that you can readily retrieve anything from your dog’s mouth. These exercises not only help your dog build good impulse control, but they will also allow you to give your dog more freedom without so much worry.

Let’s first define what the cue really means. “Drop it!” means you have something in your mouth, but please spit it out and give it to me. It really doesn’t matter what you say, as long as you’re consistent with your command. For example, my client, a mother of 3 young children, finds it more natural to say “Yucky!” when her puppy picks up something inappropriate. I personally tend to speak in sentences to my dogs, so my “Drop it!” command is actually the question, “Can I have it, please?” Don’t forget to use a visual cue as well. I place my hand out in front of me, to let my dogs know I want them to drop the object into my palm.

To help teach this new command, first start with something your dog can have in it’s mouth, such as a fun toy or a chew bone. Do not begin training with something novel, as it will increase the likelihood that your dog will not want to give it up. It’s important to begin training with an object that is safe, as you’ll want to practice your dog giving up the object from it’s mouth for several repetitions. Then, once your dog is more proficient at the “Drop it!” command, you can begin to challenge your pup with more difficult objects.

First step is to teach your dog that when you take things from it’s mouth, really good things happen! And when your dog chooses to drop it (instead of it being taken), even better things happen! This can be simply done with a trade. Let’s say you want your dog to drop a toy you’re playing with — try trading him or her with another toy. If your dog has something in it’s mouth, present a stinky treat to it’s nose, and the moment your dog spits it out, give the treat to reinforce the drop it. The trade teaches your dog it’s fun and rewarding to give up objects in it’s mouth.

Fetch is a great way to encourage the “Drop it!” command. When your dog spits the ball in your hand, tossing it for the next fetch is often reward enough for most dogs. The continuation of play is like a saying “thank you” to your dog for his or her compliance in giving you the toy.

In addition to a trade, practice taking something away from your dog… and then give it right back! This reduces the likelihood that your dog will guard the object, by teaching them when you take something from their mouth, it doesn’t always disappear for good. Much of the reason our dogs dart away from us when they have something in their mouth, is they are afraid we will take it away permanently. This is why it’s vital to first practice this command with a safe object your dog can have, so you can practice giving it back to your dog when he or she performs the command well.

These techniques can increase safety while out and about in the real world, where we are more likely to run into harmful things that could hurt our pets if consumed. They can also prevent resource guarding and reduce possession aggression in our dogs. However, if you try these tips and note any type of aggressive behaviors from your pooch, consult a professional dog trainer to help you proceed!

Don’t “drop the ball” on training your canine this essential command! Happy training to you!