Dog Training

How to Teach Your Dog to Drop It

March 12, 2022

Saying “drop it” to your dog means “please release the thing in your mouth”. Teaching your dog to drop it can be a life-saving skill! It’s important to train it before you actually need it.

“Drop it” is useful in many situations:

Imagine walking your dog down the street. They grab a questionable piece of garbage. Would you rather 1) reach your hands in their mouth to hopefully grab it before they swallow it, or 2) say “drop it” and have them voluntarily release the item?

Or perhaps your puppy just grabbed your favourite sweater that you accidentally left on the couch. You don’t want to try to tug it out of their mouth and possibly damage it (plus, tug turns it into a fun game and makes the puppy more likely to steal it again!). Instead, you just say “drop it” and they give it back.

Or maybe you just want to play fetch with your dog. It’s hard to play fetch with a dog that never gives you the ball back!

Dog Logic.

Drop it is a command your dog needs to know!

What we will cover in this article:

  • The difference between “Drop it” and “Leave it”
  • Two ways of teaching “Drop it” with positive reinforcement
  • My favourite way to teach a dog “drop it”
  • Video example of the steps!
  • Trouble shooting issues you may have

“Drop it” and “leave it” are different commands!

Dog owners frequently use “drop it” and “leave it” interchangeably. Just like “sit” versus “down”, they mean different things though!

Drop it should be used when your dog has something in their possession that you would like them to release. You can use it for toys, slippers, sidewalk snacks, or anything else. The key feature is that it’s something in your dogs mouth that you want released.

Leave it should only be used when your dog doesn’t have the item in their possession (yet). Maybe you drop something in the kitchen and don’t want them grabbing it, or there’s a sidewalk snack that you can see but want them to ignore. “Leave it” means “don’t go for that thing!”.

If you want to teach your dog to Leave It, read this.

Two ways to teach “Drop it”:

There are two common methods of teaching drop it using force-free positive reinforcement methods:

  1. Use a treat in your hand to try to get your dog to trade for the item in their mouth into your other hand.
  2. Scatter the treats on the floor so your dog releases the item to the floor as it goes for the treats.

The second method (created by Chirag Patel) is my preferred way of teaching drop it!

Why?

I find it works way better!

If you use the first method and try to grab the item in your dogs mouth while using the treat as a lure with the other hand, it can be taken as play or even threatening for the dog. Using the floor instead makes it neutral! Your dog won’t think you’re trying to play tug, and they won’t back away from the hand approaching their face. All they have to do is place the item down to get the treats!

My favourite way to teach Drop It:

Let’s train your dog to release the thing in their mouth! I’ll explain everything in text first, then you can watch a video example.

Step 1:

This step is going to seem strange, but do not skip it! We’re going to start teaching “Drop it” when your dog doesn’t have anything in their mouth. Huh?

Think about it- what does your dog need to do to drop something? Open their mouth.

What does your dog need to do to eat treats? Open their mouth!

Starting drop it training when your dog doesn’t have anything in their mouth helps you solidly establish the “drop” command as something your dog WANTS to hear.

Your dog will love this step!

Kneel in front of your dog with a few treats in your hand. Remember to use tiny treats for training!

Say “drop” and immediately scatter a couple treats on the floor next to your dog. Make sure you say “drop” before showing the treats! We’re training, not bribing. Let your dog eat the treats!

You’ll likely feel a bit ridiculous doing this when there’s nothing in your dogs mouth. However, we’re building an association that “Drop” means “Treats are coming, open your mouth”.

Step 2:

Next we’ll progress to your dog actually having something in their mouth. For now, use something of lower value to your dog than the treats are. This could be a toy, chew, whatever.

Kneel in front of your dog while they have the item in their mouth. Again, say “drop” and IMMEDIATELY scatter a couple treats on the ground next to them. As your dog goes for the treats, pick up the item that was released. Your dog just dropped it!

Step 3:

Test if your dog has learned drop it:

This time when your dog has their item, say “drop” but wait a few seconds before scattering the treats. If your dog has been properly conditioned by steps 1+2, they should now release that item BEFORE they see the treats. Two things might happen:

  • They release the item from the verbal cue. Amazing! Click or use your marker word to tell your dog that they did a good job, then give them their treat (you can offer it from your hand or scatter them on the floor). Continue practicing with higher and higher value items to proof the behavior.
  • They don’t release the item….That’s ok! They’re just not ready for step 3 yet. Do not repeat “drop” and instead just scatter the treats on the floor. Take it as a signal that your dog is not ready for a verbal cue only. Continuing practicing with the treat scatter to solidify their skills, or try with a lower value item.

Video example:

Trouble shooting issues you may have teaching Drop It:

Drop it is a difficult ask. Remember: you’re requesting that your dog let go of something they found interesting! Here are a few areas I commonly see struggles and how to fix them:

  • Puppy just won’t drop it: Previous clients have complained that their puppy just doesn’t seem to want to drop items, even for treats. The most common reason for this is that stealing your items has become a fun game! Have you ever chased after your puppy after they grabbed a slipper? Or tried to tug something out of their mouth? Some puppies love play more than they love treats! If this sounds like yours: I suggest keeping a leash on them inside for a little while. That way, when they grab something you’re able to prevent them from running away with it or starting a game of chase. Say “drop” and scatter the treats a little bit farther from you. This helps remove the confusion of play versus drop!
  • Your dog learned drop, but now only does it sometimes: My first question is usually: are you rewarding them for every drop?? I highly recommend that you do! With most obedience commands I switch to a lottery system (randomly rewarding) once the dog knows what I’m asking. However, I reward every single time for recall, leave it, and drop it. Why? They’re difficult tasks because you’re asking the dog to do what you want rather than interact with the fun environment/item/animals around them! If you are rewarding every time but you’re still struggling, I’d suggest trying a higher value reward.
  • Your dog cannot seem to learn the verbal cue: Commonly I see this with poor reward timing. Remember: we’re trying to train your dog, not bribe them! Therefore, it’s important during training that you say “Drop” before showing the treats! We eventually want the dog to do it upon verbal ask. We don’t want them looking to see if you “have the goods” first. Don’t show the treat until you’ve requested the behaviour!
  • Your dog tries to back away when you say “Drop”: Two things! First, make sure you’re saying “drop” in a fun, upbeat tone. Some dogs are more sensitive than others so hearing “drop” in a firm or harsh way can cause them to recoil. Second, make sure you are reaching to the side when you drop the treats NOT towards your dog. Depending on how valuable your dog finds the item, they may back up if they think you’re trying to grab it. Instead, use the floor as a neutral point. You’re placing treats, your dog is placing the item.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments below.

Happy training 🙂

How to train your dog to drop it

Disclosure: Happy Hounds uses affiliate links. Purchasing with these links will not cost you any extra, but I get commissions for purchases made through these links. Affiliate links help me to continue to offer free resources & blog posts. I would love if you used them!

How to Teach Your Dog to Drop It

About the author:

Stephanie Rombough, DBTMc, is a force-free dog trainer in Edmonton, Alberta. She owns Happy Hounds Dog Training, offering private in-person or virtual dog training services. 

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