You’re taking your dog for a stroll, and the next thing you know, he’s managed to snag something disgusting, like a chicken bone, or worse, roadkill. What’s next?
Most pet parents don’t want to reach into their dog’s mouth to pull out the offending object, but the alternative—letting your dog swallow it—isn’t an option either. Enter: “drop it.”
The “drop it” cue can be a literal lifesaver when your dog has grabbed something dangerous, but it can also be used in casual daily interactions, like during a round of fetch or tug. The more you incorporate the “drop it” into your dog’s training repertoire, the easier it’ll be to use it in situations where you need it.
Why Teach “Drop It”?
Dogs are curious by nature, and their active noses often lead them to grab stuff they shouldn’t. Trying to wrangle contraband away isn’t a great idea since dogs love to try to eat all sorts of gross things. Plus, most dogs play to win when it comes to tug-of-war with stinky prizes. And some contraband needs to be dealt with immediately, like medication that fell on the floor.
“Drop it” also comes in handy if you have a dog that doesn’t want to release the ball during games of fetch or for dogs that get super intense during tug. Asking your dog to “drop” allows for a break in the action and can make playtime even more fun.
Before You Begin
Some dogs can become possessive when they grab something they value—whether it’s a wooden spoon snagged from the dishwasher or a dirty sock—and they may engage in resource guarding to prevent you from taking it away.
If your dog stiffens, growls, or lunges when you move toward him to retrieve stolen goods, consider enlisting the help of a qualified positive reinforcement trainer.
Keep in mind that every dog has a hierarchy of goods, so before you begin “drop it” training, you need to understand what your dog values. It’s easiest to start the training process with low-value items that your dog will happily relinquish to get a treat.
And of course, you’ll need to load up on high-value treats since you’ll be doing multiple trials during each training session. The treats have to be more interesting than the item you’ll be using for drop training, so opt for goodies like bits of cheese, lunch meat, or hot dogs.
Finally, keep your lessons upbeat and happy. Sure, figuring out how to teach a dog to drop it is important for safety reasons and can feel a little stressful, but you’ll be more successful if you keep the training process fun.
How to Teach “Drop It” in 9 Steps
Once you’ve identified an item low on your pup’s hierarchy, you’re ready to train your dog to drop it. For play-motivated dogs, this might be their least favorite ball. For food-motivated pups, try an empty rubber treat-dispensing toy usually filled with goodies.
Step 1: Offer the item to your dog and let him take it in his mouth. Don’t force him to take the object, if he’s not interested in it, find another equally low-value item.
Step 2: Place a treat close enough to your dog’s nose that he can smell it and wait for him to release the item in anticipation of getting the treat.
Step 3: Give your dog the treat as soon as he lets go of the item and praise him for doing a good job. Many dogs will gobble up the treat and try to grab the item again, so if your dog manages to snag it, repeat the process, but this time toss the treat a few steps away so your dog has to chase after it and you have time to pick it up before your dog does.
Step 4: Offer the item to your dog again, and once it’s in his mouth, repeat step three.
Step 5: If you’ve been holding the treat in front of your dog’s nose to get him to drop the item, try a few repetitions so that the treat is visible but not close to your dog, like at your side. This prevents the treat from becoming a required part of the “drop it” process; your dog shouldn’t have to see the treat to relinquish the item.
Step 6: Once your dog quickly releases the object, begin adding the word “drop” or “drop it” right as he lets go of it. At this stage, you’re teaching your dog by pairing the word or phrase with the action he’s performing. Your dog should start to make the connection after about ten repetitions, at which time you can give your dog the item and ask him to “drop.”
Step 7: Remember that a few successes in a training scenario don’t equal “drop it” mastery. Move up your dog’s hierarchy by working with more challenging objects, like a favorite toy or a piece of dry pasta. And don’t forget to follow up every victory with a treat.
Step 8: Continue practicing in various environments like outside, starting with low-value objects and gradually increasing the value of what you’re asking your dog to drop.
Step 9: Once your dog is reliably dropping when you ask, try a few “cold trials” by planting preferred objects on the ground around the house and outside and ask your dog to “drop it.” A speedy response in these challenging scenarios means that your dog knows what he’s doing.
What If My Dog Won’t Drop It? Helpful Tips
If you’re trying to teach your dog how to drop items, but it’s not working, consider the following potential issues:
You’re using boring treats. “Drop it” can be a challenging cue, so make sure you give your dog high-value treats for his hard work.
You tried to jump from training trials to real-life too quickly. Just because your dog nails “drop it” in your family room with an old sock doesn’t mean that he’ll automatically be able to do it when he grabs a hamburger wrapper on the street. It takes time and attention to perfect this cue in the real world.
You stopped practicing. You and your dog need to keep the “drop it” muscle in good shape by working on it frequently. This is a “use it or lose it” cue, so never stop working on it.
Once you and your dog have mastered the “drop it” cue, you’ll be amazed at how handy it is. The next time you come across a chicken bone on your walk, you’ll be thrilled that you and your dog spent time working on the right cue to have him let go of it.