Teach the “Drop It” Command, For Safety’s Sake

Kate Naito
by Kate Naito
You’ve heard the horror stories where dogs eat anything they find on the ground. Teach you pup a reliable Drop It cue before you have a traumatizing story of your own.

“Drop It” instructs the dog to immediately spit out whatever is in his mouth. In extreme cases, it can mean the difference between life and death. The problem is, your dog put that half-eaten pepperoni pizza slice in his mouth for a reason — he wants it! Once it’s firmly in his mouth, it’s really up to him whether he will drop it or not. So it’s your job to convince him that spitting out the pizza is actually more fun and rewarding than eating it.

Here are three levels of Drop It. Work your way up by increasing the difficulty in very small increments, to ensure your dog is successful at every step. In real life, do not tell your dog to “drop it” unless you are almost certain he will. If your dog is still a the beginner levels of Drop It and he picks up something delicious (to him) on your walk, use the Level 1 method to handle snacking emergencies.

Level 1: Emergency Drop It

This is a starting point for dogs with unreliable Drop It skills. Use this method for real-life emergencies until your dog fully learns to drop things on cue. Remember to bring extra tasty treats on your walks, in case such an emergency should arise.

  1. When your dog grabs a chicken bone or other dangerous item, immediately dump all of your extra tasty treats on the ground. Scatter them in all directions.
  2. Your dog, seeing this treat explosion, will spit out the chicken bone and start vacuuming the treats.
  3. While he’s doing this, remove the chicken bone from your path and then continue on your walk.

Level 2: Share an Item

This teaches the principle of Drop It, showing your dog that spitting out an item will get him something even better in return. Repeat this activity with as many different (safe) items as you can find.

  1. Share a long toy (like a rope toy) or long chewy (like a bully stick) with your dog. Do not let go.
  2. Before he gets too invested in the toy, say “drop it” once.
  3. Immediately trade the toy for a “surprise” treat from your pocket. He will spit out the toy when he sees the treat. Mark “good dog!” and reward with the treat.
  4. Practice this no more than three times. Do a few short sessions for several days, until he’s dropping items with ease.
  5. Now, delay the reward. Say “drop it” and wait for him to spit it out. When he drops it, dig into your pocket for the reward.

Level 3: It’s All Yours (for the Moment)

Now you will give your dog the entire item, rather than share it. To ensure success, start with a very boring object to drop. You can also put him on leash to prevent him from running off.

  1. Give the dog full possession of a low-value item, only for a second or two.
  2. Say “drop it” once and wait for him to spit it out. When he does, reward with an even better treat or toy. (If he doesn’t drop it, go back to level 2.)
  3. Practice in short sessions, inside and outside, using a variety of (safe) items to drop.

By convincing your dog that Drop It is a actually fun game with big rewards, you can turn your sidewalk snacker into a master of spitting things out.

Kate Naito
Kate Naito

Kate Naito, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer at Doggie Academy in Brooklyn, NY, and author of the training book, "BKLN Manners." She draws upon her experience as an educator and dog trainer to apply positive training techniques to a challenging urban environment. Kate is a rescue advocate drawn to special-needs dogs and currently has two Chihuahua mixes, Batman and Beans.

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