When practicing, you’ll want your dog’s body to remain loose, wiggly, and free of tension. If your dog begins to freeze, stiffen, bare teeth, snarl, or growl, stop the exercise! This is your dog saying he’s uncomfortable. Try to note the point before your dog began to show signs of stress. Take a break. When resume your practice with your dog, stop before he grows uncomfortable. This should be a fun game for you and your dog.
When teaching your dog to drop an object, start the practice as a trade:
- Begin by holding a treat in one hand and a toy in the other. Entice your dog to play with you and the toy: hold the toy and excitedly drag it around on the floor until your dog grabs it. Continue to hold the toy, even if your dog grabs on and starts to play.
- Once your dog is playing with you and the toy, present the treat. It’s important that he be as motivated by the treat as he is by the toy. While your dog still has the toy in his mouth, say “drop it” once, clearly. Then toss the treat onto the floor.
- If your dog drops the toy and takes the food, immediately praise him and then redirect him back to the toy in your hand and resume the game. Repeat the process.
Tip! If your dog doesn’t let go of the toy, don’t repeat the cue! Instead, make a big deal about the food on the floor. Point to the treat while you talk excitedly about it. The moment your dog chooses to disengage from the toy, praise him. You can even drop down a couple extra pieces of food to reinforce your dog’s decision to drop his toy.
Remember! You are not taking the toy away from your dog. You’re simply redirecting him to something else and having him make the choice to let go of the toy and move on to something new.
Next Steps: pause after trading; introducing high-value objects.
When your dog is doing well and moving easily between toy and treat, you can progress to the next steps.
- Follow the process above; however, when your dog drops the toy and takes his treat, take the toy away for a few seconds and then return the toy to your dog. Repeat.
- If your dog is successfully trading toys for treats, you can begin to introduce other, higher-value items. What does your dog value? Rope toys, nylabones, Kongs, bully sticks? Once you know what motivates your dog, use two similar objects (i.e.: two tugs toys, two tennis balls, two food- filled Kongs) to practice trading using the “drop it” cue.
A note about growling:
If at any point in your practice, your dog growls or bares his teeth, stop what you are doing. Do not punish your dog for growling or take his toy away in haste. Growling is an important communication tool and a way for your dog to safely communicate his discomfort. A dog who is punished for growling often stops using that warning signal and instead goes straight to snapping or biting. If your dog is growling, showing other signs of stress, or is hesitant to let go of his toy, you’ll need to take a different or slower approach. Contact us for help!
Need help? Call our free pet behavior help line at (503) 416-2983.