Having a dog that refuses to release objects from their mouth can be incredibly frustrating. You may have tried countless times to get them to “drop it” with little success. While some dogs are naturally more possessive than others, this behavior can be changed with the proper techniques and patience. Here are some secrets to reliably getting your dog to drop objects from their mouth.
Start Training Young
Like most behaviors, it’s ideal to start training a solid “drop it” command early. Puppies are still forming habits and behaviors, so teaching them to release objects on cue will pay off greatly. Make drop it part of your puppy’s basic training starting as young as eight weeks old.
Use High-Value Treats
The key to training a dog to drop an item is making what you have more enticing than what they have. Use your pup’s absolute highest-value treats they only get during training sessions. Small pieces of cooked chicken, cheese, hot dogs, and liver work well. Show them you have the treats, then give the drop-it commands in an upbeat, encouraging tone.
A trade can teach your dog that exchanging objects leads to something even better. When your dog has an item, show them a treat while giving the drop command. When they release the item, they immediately give treats and praise. This helps reinforce that dropping objects results in a reward. Start with lower-value items, then work up to their favorites.
Use Two Toys
Have two identical toys and initiate a game of tug or fetch. When your dog returns the first toy, show excitement for the second one. Give the drop command while waving the new toy. When your dog drops the first toy, immediately throw the second toy and celebrate. This teaches that fetching the following toy is rewarding.
Add a Cue
Pair the drop-it commands with a physical cue for a better response. Gently hold your dog’s muzzle while giving a verbal cue. Don’t pry their mouth open; apply light pressure. Release their muzzle and reward them the exact moment they release the item. The physical cue can help communicate what you want.
It can be frustrating when your dog refuses to drop an item, but anger or repeatedly shouting will only make them more anxious and less likely to comply. Speak calmly and use your cue and treats. If they don’t respond after a few attempts, ignore them for 10 minutes, then try again in a cheerful tone. Staying calm will get you better results.
When dogs think keeping an object away from you is a fun game, it encourages them to run off or play keep away. Rather than chasing them around for the item, immediately turn, walk away, or run in the other direction, calling happily. This teaches that the game ends when they don’t return the item.
Teach “Leave It”
The leave it command teaches your dog not to take an item in the first place. Have treats visible in one hand and an object in the other. Give the leave-it command before they take the object. Reward them with treats if they follow your command. This helps reinforce not picking items up to begin with.
Use Life Rewards
Incorporating training into real-life situations can be more meaningful than a staged session. For example, if your dog picks up something they shouldn’t while on a walk, stop moving and stand still until they drop the item. When they do, give praise and toss a treat on the ground. Continuing the walk is their reward.
Never punish your dog for not dropping an item. Attempts to pry it from their mouth, yelling, or scaring them can make them more reluctant to give objects up in the future. Stay positive by waiting them out, trading up, or using rewards-only training methods. The force will damage trust and reinforce possessiveness.
Start with Low Value
If your dog is highly possessive, train with items they don’t typically guard. Rolled-up socks, plastic bottles, or toys they don’t usually care for work well. Once reliably responsive to low-value objects, they gradually work up to their favorites. Taking small steps ensures success.
Teach Drop and Hold
Teaching both drop it and hold it cues gives you more control. Your dog learns only to carry and possess items when given the okay. Reward holding items briefly on cue, then give the drop cue and reward. Now, they understand both moving and releasing objects are desirable behaviors.
If your dog manages to run off and keep an object multiple times before you get it back, they are rehearsing the negative behavior. Rather than repeating takeaway attempts, proactively manage situations. Keep tempting items put away and doors closed to set your dog up for success until the drop-it cue is solid.
Get every family member on board with drop-it training so you are all using the same commands and techniques. Not allowing your dog to keep forbidden objects, trading up for rewards, and praising drops must be consistent. Mixed messages from different people will undermine training.
Some dogs are naturally unwilling to give up items simply because they don’t know what’s in it for them! Start showing them the valuable treats you have before giving a cue. Why should they comply if they have yet to determine if they will get anything in return? Let them know you always have something good to swap.
Make It a Game
You want your dog to see releasing objects as a fun game with rewards rather than a chore. Use an animated voice, offer high-value treats, and make heavy praise a colossal celebration. They will catch on to your enthusiasm and look forward to drop-it sessions. Keeping the mood upbeat is critical.
If your dog has a habit of quickly snatching up forbidden or dangerous items, keep those things secured. The more they practice running off with things, the more brutal training them to drop on command will be. Manage their environment so you’re not forced to pry items away.
Stick to Basics
Resist overly complicated techniques that can confuse your dog. Trading up, rewarding with praise and treats, and using a happy tone are straightforward methods. Keep drop-it training simple, consistent, and positive for the best results. Your dog will eventually come to understand what earns them rewards.
Know When to Stop
If frustration builds, it’s time to take a break. End the session positively by asking for a simple behavior they can perform, such as sitting. Return to training when calm and reset the environment by removing the tempting item for a while. Pushing too far can set progress back.
Don’t get upset if your dog regresses or refuses to drop again. Instead, evaluate what may have changed, such as a higher-value item, an environment with more distractions, or your mood. Then, scale back the training to set your dog up for success again. Seeking help from a professional can provide fresh ideas, too.
Practice Makes Perfect
Achieving a reliable drop-in behavior takes regular practice and consistency, especially for possessive dogs. Be patient and focus on creating frequent positive experiences for your dog when releasing objects. In time, they will learn giving up items results in rewards rather than loss. Keep at it!
With the proper techniques and commitment to positive training methods, even the most stubborn dogs can learn to give up items on command. Avoid frustration or anger, stay consistent in your cues and responses, and be as rewarding as possible. With enough repetition in various settings, your dog can master this behavior. A reliable drop-it command provides peace of mind should your dog ever pick up something dangerous. Put in the time for the best chance of success.