October 19, 2023

Three Fun Games to Teach Your Dog to Drop It

Teaching the “Drop It” skill can be frustrating because our natural response is to give a command and pull the item away.Try these 3 games with your dog to eagerly spit out what they have when they hear your cue.

Dog learning drop it outside

Dogs pick up things they shouldn’t, and playing with a dog who easily drops toys is more fun. Teaching the “Drop It” skill can be frustrating because our natural response is to give a command and pull the item away. We think a dog is learning that “Drop it” means give it up, but they are learning “Drop it” means hold on tighter; you’re about to take something!

Structured training games can teach your dog to eagerly spit out what they have when they hear your cue. Note that if your dog guards objects, please consult a professional.

Here are three ways to teach your dog to “Drop it.

Toy games

We can use toy play as a starting point for teaching your dog to drop an item. While we don’t want to encourage your dog to pick up garbage or sticks, we can get in hundreds of repetitions of “Drop it!” during play!  

Play tug with your dog using a toy long enough for you and your dog to both comfortably hold the item. Keep the toy active during play. After 15-60 seconds, freeze up on the toy, putting a hand on either side of your dog’s mouth and bracing a hand against your leg. Remain in that frozen position until your dog lets go. Some dogs let go quickly, puzzled by why we aren’t playing. Other dogs will hold on longer, especially if that was a successful strategy in the past. Once your dog lets go, immediately resume the game. We want your dog to see that letting go will let him get the item again.  

This is an excellent exercise for teaching your dog that letting go will let them get the object again. That won’t always happen in real life, but if it often occurs in training, then we will get more cooperation and less conflict.

Treat trade

This isn’t as elegant as some other methods, and depending on how eager a dog is about rewards, this may not be as effective for some dogs. It can be a great option for young puppies. Encourage your dog to pick up a safe object, such as a toy. If your dog struggles with letting go, use the least interesting toy they will pick up.

Give your “Drop It” cue, then offer them the treats. Don’t worry about taking the item they let go. Let it fall to the ground. Reward with multiple treats, given one at a time. Then move away or encourage them to pick up the object again. Use your voice, not your hands or feet, to interest them in the toy. 

As your dog gets more practice, they may begin to let go as soon as they hear the word. You know you’re off to a great start!

If you need to remove the toy at the end of the training, we’ll change the routine slightly when the session ends. Reward your dog for letting go with multiple small treats. Then, toss a treat (or a few) away, ideally around a corner or so your dog faces away. While they aren’t looking, then reach down to pick up the item. We want to avoid creating competition for the thing. 

Start with the cue and a treat party.

This training plan is an excellent example of a dog learning that their “Drop it” cue means to move to you for a really great experience. You will start without any kind of object in your dog’s mouth or nearby. Give your “Drop it” cue and then scatter 3-10 treat pieces to the floor. You might do this a few times in a 2-minute session or at various times throughout the day. We want to condition a strong, automatic response to hearing the word. Chirag Patel, a London-based trainer, has created a great tutorial showing all the steps - up to a dog spitting out a hot dog! 

If you need any additional guidance, our training team is here to help!