August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

Goal: Teach your dog to drop or let go of objects in their mouth with the cue "drop it."

When and where to use "drop it"

  • "Drop it" can teach dogs to release dangerous objects such as trash, bones and other items.
  • Training "drop it" can help with dog aggression stemming from guarding objects in their mouth.
  • "Drop it" can be used within the context of games, like fetch, tug and "find it."

What you need

  • Have 20-30 of your dog's favorite treats or a high value toy ready.
  • Have the dog on 6 foot leash in a quiet room.
  • Practice 2-3 times a day for 5-10 minutes each.

How to train the cue "drop it"

  • Have a few objects out that your dog likes to hold and/or chew. Use items that have lower value to your dog first, like toys, plastic chews, etc.
  • When your dog has an object in their mouth, hold a treat directly in front of their nose.
  • Your dog will release the object to get the treat. As the object falls out of their mouth say "drop it". If your dog does not release the object, the object is a higher value than the treat you have. Try a lower value object or a higher value treat.
  • If you feed the treat before picking up the object, the dog might pick the object up again before you can get to it. Pick up the object at the same time you give the treat to your dog.
  • Entice your dog to take the object again. Repeat the exercise of getting them to release the object for a treat.
  • Once your dog starts quickly releasing the object every time, start saying "drop it" before presenting the treat.
  • Once your dog starts releasing the object as soon as you say "drop it," start producing the treat as a reward (i.e., from your treat bag or behind your back) instead of as a lure (put right in front of their nose).
  • Some dogs are more motivated to "drop it" with a second ball (or toy) as a lure instead of treats.
  • When teaching "drop it" with fetch, once your dog understands the game, you can start intermittently feeding treats as a reward and eventually eliminate them. The reward is that the toy gets thrown again.
  • If your dog gets an object that's dangerous or 'off limits', redirect them to an appropriate toy or object. Make dropping 'stolen' items fun too.
  • If at any time your dog shows aggression, growls, shows teeth, snaps or bites while teaching "drop it," stop the training session and seek help from your organization or a positive reinforcement trainer.

Tips and next steps

  • If your dog has a hard time dropping an object, try throwing several treats on the ground about 6 inches away. Some dogs are more motivated to "drop it" with larger payouts.
  • If your dog doesn't take the object again so you can keep practicing, try enticing them by moving or throwing the object. Practice around the house when they pick up an object on their own.
  • Some dogs may be too interested in the treat and stop taking the object in their mouth. Try lower value treats or another toy to exchange with.
  • When your dog grabs items and runs from you, do not chase them. This will likely be a fun game for them. Calmly grab a treat and entice them to come closer and trade for a treat.
  • Once the dog is 90-95% successful in a low-distraction area, lower the value of the treats and continue to practice in low distraction areas.
  • Once your dog is successfully dropping the object using low value treats in low distraction areas, gradually add distractions; increase the value of the treats again to improve performance. More information about improving your dog's response to cues