Teaching the 'drop it' command to your dog is useful, and it can also save a life
Flickr photo by Oakley Originals
Dogs are intelligent, there is no doubt about it. They can learn a myriad of commands that help them understand where a limit may be, and ultimately, self-control.
Whether it's for us to communicate that we need them to sit or stay in a specific place or to be quiet — and beyond — every command helps a canine manage himself better in our very human world.
One command that I am big on dogs learning early, "drop it" (some folks use "leave it" or some variation), is invaluable. It teaches them to let go of an item in their mouth — willingly — whether it be a toy, food or miscellaneous item they may pick up.
Teaching "drop it" could save a pet's life: dogs are known for picking up most anything, and some things can be dangerous. I experience this frequently with canine clients while out on our outdoor adventures.
It's a helpful communication skill to have during interactive play, and to prevent resource guarding. (If the latter is already a problem, I suggest consulting a qualified behaviorist or trainer.)
To begin having your dog learn this skill, start with an item your dog doesn’t place a high value on but is likely to put in his mouth, such as a tennis ball. Say “take it” and give him the toy. Most pooches grab the toy right away. Others might need a little encouragement, so shake the toy enthusiastically. As soon as your dog takes the toy, praise him.
Next, you teach him to let go. Say “drop it” and wait a second, and then you'll want to do something to get him to let go of the toy: place a treat in front of his nose or for dogs that prize toys, pulling out a toy that has a higher value than the one he already holding. As soon as he drops what he's got, mark with a “good!” and immediately give him the treat or the new toy.
As you continue to practice (remember, keep daily sessions short, fun and consistent), teach your dog to respond to the verbal cue by saying “drop it” and waiting a little bit longer each time before doing whatever motivates your dog to drop the object.
Then you can incorporate the training into play, like a game of fetch. Now, it can be a condition of the game: he must drop the ball on command before the game continues. If he will not drop the ball, the game is over. Wait a couple of minutes and start over.
Once a dog grasps this concept, he should be able to catch your drift when you say "drop it" when he has a child's stuffed animal or other off-limits item in his mouth — just be sure to offer him a treat or his favorite toy when these first opportunities arise, until the skill becomes more reliable without a reward.
Practicing this skill with varying items and in different areas will help your pooch generalize the behavior and make him more likely to let go of whatever he's got, regardless of the scenario.
This coming week, I'll be discussing how this command can be very useful when playing one specific game with your dog.