“Drop it” is one of the most important dog obedience training skills to have in your behavior toolkit. Unfortunately, training your dog to drop things can be difficult, since most dogs only pick up things they want. That means they’d like to keep a hold of whatever it is.
And because we humans have a habit of grabbing dogs and wrenching random things out of their mouths, many dogs have learned the unfortunate behavior pattern of grabbing something and running. An even worse pattern is to grab and swallow fast before the human can take it away!
Why You Should Train Your Dog to Drop It
Learning how to train your dog to “drop it” can literally be a life saver. After all, a dog knowing how to drop things on cue can be the difference between life and death if your pup picks up something dangerous, like a packet of rat poison, and can help you avoid an expensive trip to the veterinarian.
“Drop it” isn’t just about safety, though. It can be useful in dog obedience training and other skills, such as “fetch.” You can ask a dog who knows “drop it” to drop the ball at your feet after she fetches it and avoid having to chase her down or wrench the ball out of her mouth.
So how do you train this important dog obedience skill? The following steps can build a strong behavior—if you practice it enough. All you need is your dog, a quiet space and yummy dog treats, such as Blue Buffalo’s soft-moist training treats.
Note: This method does not use a clicker. For dog training tips on how to teach “drop it” with a clicker, refer to my article, “How to Train Your Dog to Drop It in 6 Steps.”
How to Train Your Dog to Drop It
Lay the Foundation
Step 1: Choose a boring indoor space that has nothing interesting for your dog to pick up. Make sure your dog is not holding anything and say your “drop it” cue. I prefer a “drop it” cue that will come to me when I’m panicked and can only say in a cheerful voice. Many dogs move away when they hear an angry tone, so a cue such as “icky” or “trade ya” might be a good choice.
Step 2: After saying the drop it cue, immediately toss some dog treats on the ground by your dog’s feet.
Step 3: Watch your dog eat the dog treats.
Step 4: Repeat steps 1-3 about 10 times in a row, and then take a break.
Give Them Something to Drop
Practice steps 1-4 many times, in multiple sessions, until your dog looks down at her feet as soon as she hears the “drop it” cue. Once she’s very good at this game in a boring place, it’s time to add something for her to drop.
Hand your dog a toy—one she’s blasé about; not a favorite toy—and then give the cue and drop the treats.
Your dog should let go of the toy to get the dog treats. Leave the toy where it is; we don’t want to put your dog on guard. We want her to learn that she can put down the toy, get the treats and then get the toy again if she wants. Gradually build up to practicing this way with more exciting toys.
Up the Ante
Next, move on to practicing steps 1-4 again with no toy but in a more exciting place. Then add the boring and eventually the exciting dog toys in that same, more exciting place. The goal is to make sure your dog will drop what she’s holding, no matter what it is or where she is, to hunt for the treats.
Go the Distance
Gradually, you can start to drop the treats a little farther from your dog’s feet as well, building up to greater distances. This will help when you actually need to take the item. Not only will your dog be busy eating treats, but she’ll be too far away to make a quick grab for the item.
When she is consistently dropping items and walking a few steps to eat treats after hearing the cue, that’s when you can start taking the toy away. Briefly pick up the toy while she eats the treats. Then hand the toy back to her or put it back on the ground once she is finished eating her treats.
The key to success here is practicing over and over again. You want to put in hundreds—or better yet thousands—of repetitions, so your dog doesn’t even stop to think when she hears the “drop it” cue; she simply drops whatever is in her mouth and heads for the treats.
If you have trouble getting your pup to drop something, try placing the treats closer to her. You also can use a larger pile of treats.
Another option is to increase the value of the treats. Many dogs like variety, so try alternating between Zuke’s Mini Naturals dog treats and Merrick’s Power Bites soft and chewy dog treats, or use a combination of both to make things extra exciting. Feel free to pull out the extra-special stuff, too—boiled chicken or even deli meat or cheese—as long as they are safe for her and don’t upset your pup’s tummy.
It’s always best to offer your dog treats if you can, but if you don’t have any on you, that’s OK every now and then. But be sure to practice a few dozen times with treats over the next few days to remind your dog that the cue leads to treats.
When you know how to train your dog to “drop it,” the cue may come in handy during a potentially dangerous situation. With enough practice, your dog will become be a pro at dropping items on cue, and you will have the peace of mind that when you need to get something away from her, you can get it without a struggle.