How to teach a dog the drop command
This post is about how to teach a dog the drop command. For a general overview on how to deal with a dog’s possessiveness, see my post on how to stop a dog’s aggression around food and toys.
There are multiple ways to teach a dog the command for “drop.” (As in, drop whatever is in your mouth.)
Teaching a dog to drop can prevent possessiveness, but it can also help to stop a dog’s existing possessiveness. By possessiveness, I mean the dog is holding or guarding an item while not allowing a human (or another dog) to take it away.
1. Take items away from your dog and reward.
If your puppy or dog will already allow you to take items from her mouth, that is good news!
You should encourage this good behavior by continuing to take items from your pup, but make sure to instantly reward her. For example, take a sock from her mouth and instantly give her a piece of chicken. Or, take her raw hide from her mouth and instantly give the rawhide right back.
Your puppy learns, “OK, he takes things away. No big deal.”
Practice this two or three times in a row at least once a day. Keep all training to short, fun sessions.
2. Add the command “drop.”
Since your puppy is already willing to give up items in exchange for a reward, add a command.
Example: Your puppy has a tennis ball in her mouth. You show her a piece of chicken and say “drop.” She drops the ball. You give her the chicken.
Repeat this a few times – enough so it’s fun and your dog remains interested. Quit before your dog starts to get bored or stressed.
Make sure to practice this exercise at least a few times per week, preferably every day. Work up to the point where your dog will drop toys on command 99 percent of the time in exchange for a reward. You want to work up to the point where the dog’s response is automatic.
3. Incorporate play into the training.
Once your pup already knows the drop command, it’s easy to incorporate the command into games like fetch and tug. This will be an added challenge to your pup because she will be in an energized state of mind. When a dog is excited, it becomes more difficult for her to respond to commands.
During play, simply give the dog the drop command and then instantly reward her like you normally would. Some dogs will have difficulty dropping a toy on command in the middle of a game of tug, so start out by using highly valued treats – hotdogs, hamburger, etc.
4. Decrease the food rewards.
Once your dog will drop a toy on command 99 percent of the time in exchange for food, then slowly stop giving a food reward every single time.
With all commands, you want to work up to the point where the dog will obey 99 percent of the time with or without a treat.
So, when you are working on the drop command and your dog is doing well, start giving a treat every other time. And then less and less. Substitute the food with a verbal “yes!” or “Good girl!”
5. Add distractions/challenges.
Most of us make the mistake of moving on with training too quickly. You really want to work on the basics so your dog will drop a toy 99 percent of the time at home with minimal distractions. Then, start adding extra challenges.
For example, start practicing the drop command outside on the grass. Practice the command in every room of the house, on different floor surfaces. Make sure every family member practices the command with the dog. Practice the command with another dog in the room. Practice with “ultimate” items. For example, if you bring home a raw meaty bone for your dog, ask her to drop the bone and then instantly give it right back.
What if my dog is already showing aggression?
If your dog has already started showing signs of aggression around food or toys, you can still use the above examples. It’s just going to take more time and patience. Please do not hesitate to contact a local trainer for help.
If your dog is already showing possessiveness of food or toys, here are some additional ideas:
1. Avoid the items most likely to trigger the possessiveness.
Try to avoid the items that trigger your dog’s possessiveness for now.
For example, if she becomes aggressive when you try to take away a rawhide, then don’t give her rawhides quite yet.
Instead, give her less-valued items and trade her for something better. Maybe this means giving her a tennis ball and then rewarding her with a piece of jerky when she drops the ball. Maybe it means she gets a piece of food for dropping a squeaky toy or a stick or a sock. Start with whatever seems easy for you and your dog.
2. Avoid areas of the house that seem to trigger the possessiveness.
Some dogs are more likely to become possessive in the kitchen where food is prepared or near the food bowls. Some dogs become more possessive near their kennels or dog beds. If this seems to be the case with your dog, avoid those areas of the house for now. Practice in more neutral areas.
If your dog’s possessiveness is triggered by other dogs, then put away all the toys and food when other dogs are around.
3. Don’t worry about using a command right away.
Don’t worry about using an actual command quite yet. Sometimes using a command adds extra stress and tension to the training because the owner thinks if he gives a command then he must enforce it. For now, just practice giving your dog something awesome in exchange for the boring item she already has. Do this in short, fun sessions several times per day.
4. Add the drop command once your dog is already dropping the items.
Once your dog is already dropping boring items in exchange for highly valued treats, start adding the drop command. Before you progress to more difficult items, work up to the point where dropping the boring items on command is almost automatic for your dog.
As described above, try to keep all sessions fun and playful. This takes away the tension and decreases the likelihood of triggering the dog’s possessiveness.
5. Practice many short sessions several times per day.
You will see progress faster if you work on the training every day. Keep the sessions very short and fun, and set your dog up for success.
6. Slowly increase the challenges/distractions.
When your dog is successful with easier challenges, start raising the bar a bit. Begin working with your dog to drop more challenging items – bones, rawhides, etc. Begin practicing with other dogs around and in different areas of the house.
You want to set your dog up for success, so don’t challenge her too much. It’s OK if you make mistakes and expect too much from your dog. Then you know you need to go back and work on the easier steps a big more.