A day may come when a dog owner may want his dog to release an item he is carrying in his mouth and is about to potentially ingest. Indeed, the drop it or give command isn’t only for dogs who love to play fetch or a game of tug; rather, along with the recall and leave it command, the drop it command can prove to be a life saver that will help keep Oliver safe and out of trouble. All dogs should be familiar with the drop it command, and routine refresher sessions should be scheduled every now and then so to keep the release behavior fluent.
Understanding The Command
What exactly is the drop it command? The drop it command basically tells the dog to open his mouth to release anything he may be planning to ingest or carrying around. Deprived from the manual dexterity humans are gifted with, dogs tend to use their mouths to carry items around. The purpose may be to bring an item to a safe place where he can play with it, chew it or ingest it. Whether it’s a tennis ball, a shoe or a piece of dangerous baker’s chocolate that was accidentally dropped on the floor, once the dog hears the word “drop it,” he should automatically release the item he is holding in his mouth.
When can this command be used? In various situations. For instance, dogs being trained to play tug, must be familiar with the “take” and “drop” command. When dogs are taught to fetch, they must learn to release the tennis ball on command so the owner can then toss it again. At the same time, the drop it command can be used to tell a dog to drop an item he’s not supposed to have. Slippers, the remote control or a pen can be items dogs are attracted to and that may be confused for chew toys. Most of all, the drop it command can prevent a dog from swallowing a dangerous item such as a battery, a pill dropped on the floor or a dead, poisoned mouse.
Training The Command
Many dog owners are discouraged by the drop it command because they think it’s hard to teach. For a certain verse they are right to be a bit intimidated as sharing isn’t a very popular practice in the dog world, with most dogs running away with their valuables looking for a quiet spot to enjoy them in peace away from other dogs. The same can happen with humans: Oliver may get a hold of something, and as soon as the owners notice, he’ll take off and play the “keep away” game. So how to handle the situation?
Chasing the dog, cornering him and forcing him to spit the item out by opening his jaws can be quite a dangerous practice, especially if the dog is possessive. In this case, the drop it command can come handy. The below training method works well because it teaches dogs that great things happen when they relinquish items.
Step-by-Step: Training the Drop It Command
In order to train this command, dog owners should get acquainted with how valuable certain items are from the dog’s standpoint. Some dogs may find something as insignificant as a tissue paper highly valuable, while others could care less and may prefer only edible stuff. The secret to train a good drop it command is to trade the item the dog has with something the dog perceives as higher in value. Who can blame them; after all, who would feel eager to exchange a twenty dollar bill for a five dollar one! Following is a step-by-step guide on training the drop it command.
- Let your dog have a safe item and allow him to pick it up with his mouth.
- Say the command “drop it” and show him a high-value treat.
- The moment the dog drops the item, with a “yes!” or the click of the clicker.
- Immediately reward the dog for dropping the item by giving the high-value treat.
The above steps should be repeated several times until the dog drops the item in anticipation of the high value treat. At some point, the treat will no longer need to be shown because the dog will promptly drop the item upon hearing the command. Afterward, dog owners can increase criteria by asking the dog to drop items that are gradually higher in value.
Mastering the drop it command (or give command) takes some time as the dog needs to make good associations between behavior and consequence. When the dog learns that good things happen when he drops an item, he’ll be more and more likely to drop items in the future. The following tips will help dogs and dog owners progress through the training.
- Always use items that are higher value than the item dropped.
- Practice makes perfect. The more this command is rehearsed, the better the results.
- Always bring treats along on walks as the dog may always pick up something from a sidewalk.
- Scolding a dog for not dropping an item can make him more reluctant to drop in the future.
- It’s a good idea to also train the leave it command so to prevent the dog from picking up an item in the first place.
- Important: To protect the drop it command and keep it strictly for emergencies, it’s best to use the command “give” when the dog is asked to drop a ball or release a tug toy.
- Management helps prevent setting the dog for failure. If there are items the dog tends to pick up and is reluctant to release, it’s far best to keep those items out of reach then saying drop it and risking to be ignored.
The most common problem encountered when training drop it, is a dog that refuses to drop the item. This can happen for several reasons, but it’s mostly seen in the initial stages of learning when the behavior isn’t fluent yet. If it continues to happen, some troubleshooting should be done.
- Are the treats offered in exchange high value enough? If not, they should be. Most dogs aren’t too crazy about their regular kibble or so-so treats. String cheese, chicken, steak, freeze-dried liver are foods the dog shouldn’t hesitate dropping the item for.
- Are the items asked to drop difficult to drop? Sticky items may be hard to drop.
- Is the dog actually seeing the treat being offered in exchange? Placing it closer to the dog’s mouth or nose may entice him to drop the item.
- Does the dog have a history of being chased when he has an item he shouldn’t have? In such as case, he may love to play the “keep-away” game and may find that very rewarding by itself. Leashing the dog so he can focus on the treat being offered can be a good solution.
- Does the dog have a history of being scolded for having an item he shouldn’t have or did the owner often pry his mouth open to retrieve in object? If so, when he gets a hold of a forbidden item, he may not want to be near his owner for the simple fact that he fears getting scolded or having his mouth pried open. He may also try to look for a spot to hide. It may take a while to gain his trust again.
- Is the dog possessive about resources such as toys, food or other items? If so, it’s best to consult with a dog behavior professional for help.
As much as dog owners may try hard to prevent their dog from eating something potentially dangerous, sometimes the drop it command may not work. A time may come when the dog owner may not be quick enough to even pronounce the command or the dog for some reason doesn’t listen; after all, nobody is perfect and training isn’t fool proof. In such a case it’s best to contact the vet. Some items can be safely brought back up using hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting. It’s also advisable to keep the Pet Poison Helpline 1-800-213-6680 handy at all times. The helpline is available 24/7 for pet owners in need.
The Bottom Line
As seen, the drop it command can turn helpful in many situations. While the use of tasty treats is always highly recommended, a time may come when the dog may pick up something and the owner may not have any treats on him. What happens in such a case? Fortunately, when the command has been trained extensively, the dog shouldn’t hesitate to drop the item because he has learned to do this reflexively, almost without thinking. With no treats available, the dog owner can always reward lavishly with loads of praise and pats. That’s the moment when dog owners are grateful of all the time and effort they put into the training of the command. It’s literally payback time, when the returns on the investment are finally seen, and what better return is there than keeping a beloved four-legged companion happy, healthy and safe!