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 its mouth when given a verbal cue. The release command is very important to train your dog. It can protect a dog when it has something dangerous in its 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." 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."

Start With a Favorite Toy

To start, offer your dog one of its favorite toys, saying "take it." If your dog is highly excited to see the toy, you might want to let it have a minute or so to play before you start training. Do not wait so long that your dog gets bored with the toy.

Swap the Toy for a Treat

While the toy is in your dog's mouth, hold a treat up to its nose. As soon as your dog releases the toy, give it the treat. Repeat steps this several times until you feel your dog is responding well.

Add a Verbal Cue

Add the verbal cue, such as "drop it." Say the cue firmly and clearly while still holding the treat near the dog's nose. After a while, try holding the treat farther away. Gradually increase the distance if your dog still responds to the verbal cue. Then, try the command without the treat, praising your dog if it complies.

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.
  • For dogs that like to play "keep away," have your dog wear a leash and collar during training sessions.
  • Other one or two-word commands can be used like "give" or "release." You might want to avoid "Let go," it may be confused with "Let's go."

Drop It and Leave It

Once your dog has mastered the "drop it" command, the next, more complicated step is to get it to leave the item it has dropped, instead of picking it up again. If your dog goes to pick up the item it has just dropped, do not try to take away the item or yell at the dog.

Remember, dogs respond best to positive reinforcement. Give a "leave it" command and give the dog a treat when it doesn't touch the dropped item again. "Leave" is not as easy for some dogs to grasp as "drop" so be patient and offer lots of praise when your dog gets it right.

Problems and Proofing Behavior

Although it may seem instinctive, you should never pull a toy (or anything else) from a dog's mouth or grab its head to try to remove something. Never try to pry open a dog's jaws. This can send the wrong message, making the action seem like a game or punishment to the dog. Also, it will probably cause your dog to hold the item more tightly, or worse, swallow it. You also may get bitten for your trouble. If your dog has something in its mouth that may be harmful to it, the best way to get it to release when all else fails is to dump a handful of treats in front of the animal.

Another common mistake owners make when training their dogs in this behavior is choosing cue words that too closely mimic other commands. For example, "drop" and "stop" rhyme, and will likely confuse the dog if you use both of them for different commands. Use a unique word or phrase that you can say in an upbeat, positive voice, and that your dog will come to associate with the "drop" behavior.

To proof this behavior, continue the training regularly, changing up the item the dog is supposed to "leave." Once it gets to the point where the dog is able to obey "leave" for its favorite toy, you can feel confident that the dog has got the behavior down.