Today we’re featuring a guest post from Scott over at PetRegale. Scott has so many awesome tips and tricks for owners trying to clicker train their pets, And he’s agreed to help us train our dogs to learn what I believe to be the single-most important command when it comes to poison prevention – “Drop It”.
Have you ever had to pry open your dog’s mouth? Then you know it’s just about impossible to do, especially if they don’t want to give up the treasure they found.
If you can be a bit clumsy like me it’s not uncommon for you to drop an ibuprofen when fumbling with the bottle while battling a headache. The second that ibuprofen hits the floor it becomes a race to get to it before the dog does. I never lost, but what if I did?
At least once a week in our house I find one of the dogs on the floor gnoshing on something I didn’t give them. Before I taught them the “drop it” command I would make a fast move towards them and say “NO”. But the moment I took that first step they knew the game was up and they took it into their mouth and locked their jaw. Now I had to force my fingers between their teeth to get their mouth open. And half the time they swallow whatever it was instead of giving it up.
Does this sound familiar?
Would you like to never have to pry open your dog’s mouth again?
Teach Them To “Drop It”
“Drop it” or “leave it” is a simple command you can teach your dog but you’ll need just a bit of patience. This isn’t something that dogs are naturally inclined to do.
The First Step
Choose a toy to begin training with that they consider low value. A stuff animal is usually perfect for this.
Once they have begun playing with it and they have it in their mouth take out a high value edible treat and hold it up to their nose and say “drop it”. Since they consider the food to be highly important most dogs will immediately drop the toy to make room for it.
Don’t nag them. Say it once and wait, and then the moment that they drop the toy take it away and click once with your clicker, then give them the treat.
If after a minute they continue to play with the toy you probably need to get a higher value treat. Maybe a piece of cheese or a liver based treat.
When the treat is gone give them back the toy and repeat the process three or four more times. Do this three or four times a day so that they begin to trust that they will get their toy back.
The Next Step
Once they get the idea you want to stop using the treat every time and eventually stop using it all together. You don’t want to have to bribe them every time. Continue to reinforce the behavior with the clicker, however.
As they more willingly give the toy to you start giving the command from a few feet away and continue to practice further and further away from them. Eventually you want to be able to give the command from across the room and be confident that will drop whatever they have in their mouth.
Don’t try to go from a couple of feet away to the other side of the room. Slowly add in another foot at each session or maybe once a day.
Scott from PetRegale.com also recommends to start to introduce more valuable toys to them and eventually high value treats that you want them to drop. The goal is to get them to drop anything and not just a stuffed bear.
Introduce Random “Drop It” Commands
Once they are doing well and dropping the toy you can begin to surprise them with the command. Turn it into a game. When you catch them playing with any toy you can give them the command, click when they drop it, take it away, and then shower them with praise.
This will reinforce the habit and get them accustomed to playing the “game” at random times through the day. This is the end goal because when they scour the trash and pull out a bone you’ll be giving the command in a similar situation. Make sure when you practice to continue to increase the value of what you want them to drop, because they are going to value whatever they took from the garbage can very highly.
Even during random practice through the day always give them back their toy unless it’s something you truly didn’t want them to have.
There will be situations where you can’t give them back what they had, however. For example, if they took a bagel off the table you don’t want to give that back to them. Instead when you take it away replace it with one of their toys.
Realize This Is A Game To Them
To you this is a safety drill but to them it’s a game. As time goes on they will look to you to play the game and that’s exactly what you want. They may actually even prod you to play the “drop it” game by bringing you their toys and dropping them at your feet.
If they do make sure to praise them (click if you can) and hand the toy right back to them.
With practice, consistency, and reward your dog is going to be a master of this game before you know it. The day will quickly come when you’ll find them on the floor with a pill bottle or a chicken bone and you’ll be able to confidently play “drop it” with them and you’ll get whatever they have in their mouth without having to pry their jaw open.
Unfamiliar with clicker training? We have you covered. Here are 15 tips from Pet Regale to help make clicker training easy and effective.