How To Train Your Dog to Release or "Drop It"

Dog lying on grass, ball in mouth, elevated view

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Training your dog to release, or "drop it" means teaching your dog to let go of whatever is in his mouth when given a verbal cue. The release command is very important to train your dog. It can protect him when he has something dangerous in his mouth, plus it allows you and your dog to safely play games like tug-of-war and fetch.

It only takes a few minutes to teach most dogs the release command "drop it." However, some dogs can become easily distracted, so be patient and persistent. The idea behind this training method is to basically offer your dog a trade: "let go of the object in your mouth and something good will happen."

How To Train The Release Cue

  1. Offer your dog one of his favorite toys, saying "take it."
  2. If your dog is highly excited to see the toy, you might want to let him have a minute or so to play before you start training. Just don't wait so long that he gets bored with the toy.
  3. While the toy is in your dog's mouth, hold a treat up to his nose. 
  4. As soon as your dog releases the toy, give him the treat.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 several times until you feel your dog is responding well.
  6. Now, add the verbal cue, such as "drop it." Say the cue firmly and clearly while still holding the treat near his nose. 
  7. After a while, try holding the treat farther away. Gradually increase the distance if he still responds to the verbal cue. Then, try the command without the treat, praising your dog if he complies.

Release Command Training Tips

  • If your dog becomes overly excited or obsessed with the treats, take a break and restart the training session at a later time.
  • If your dog does not let go of the toy when the treat is presented, try wiggling the treat or holding it closer to the nose. DO NOT pull the toy from his mouth or pry open his jaws. This can send the wrong message, seeming like a game or punishment. Also, it will probably cause your dog to hold the item more tightly.
  • For dogs that like to play "keep away," have your dog wear a leash and collar during training sessions so he can not run away with the toy in his mouth.
  • Other words can be used to teach this command, like "give" or "release." However, be certain the command you choose will be clear. "Let go" may be confused with "Let's go" (for a ride, walk, etc). Consider the other words and cues you use with your dog and pick the least confusing word or phrase possible. Try to stick to one or two words.
  • Once your dog seems to understand the release command, you can practice it randomly whenever your dog is holding something in his mouth.