[Noozhawk’s note: First in a series.]

Dear Inquisitive Canine,

Q: Our 1½-year-old English bulldog just got out of the hospital, having had surgery to remove a small ball. Two other pieces of plastic were also removed.

How do we get her to “drop it,” “leave it” and “come”?

A: Great question! For each of these cues, the key is to make it clear that there is consistently something amazingly wonderful to be had as a reward for exchanging or moving away from an item on cue and checking in with the handler, no matter the circumstance.

Let’s take a closer look at each cue in a series of posts.

Drop: The “Drop” cue means for your dog to open her mouth and drop whatever she is holding.

To maintain trust and help prevent resource guarding, however, it’s crucial to teach pups that the approach of a person does not mean that an item will be taken away.

We need to show our dogs that first, we are never a threat and second, it’s good to share or relinquish items because there’s an even better payoff.

Teach your dog that a hand coming toward her when she has an object in her mouth means that a treat is being offered; the hand becomes a predictor of good things, not something to fear that takes objects away.

Helpful Hints

  • Use a nonthreatening tone of voice for the “drop” cue.
  • Sometimes, such as when playing tug, guardians might want to be able to take the tug toy away, which is more of an “out” as opposed to Drop.
  • If your dog has an object that you need to get out of her mouth and she is not yet reliable with the cue(s), use distraction or offer a high-value treat to prompt her to let go.

Steps to Teach Your Dog, ‘I’ll Trade You!

  1. Initially, offer your dog a toy she is likely to hold in her mouth but will still relinquish for food. (Avoid asking your dog to trade her favorite item.)
  2. Offer your dog a food treat in front of her nose and wait until she drops the object.
  3. Say “yes” as she releases the toy and give the treat. Remember, you always want to trade up! You’re asking your dog to trust you, so help keep up that bond of trust.
  4. Toss or play with the toy to foster interest in picking the toy up again.
  5. Repeat at least five times to help build fluency.
  6. Once the behavior can be prompted, add the cue, “drop.” Then, praise and reward your dog for releasing the item. The verbal “drop” cue should precede offering the food treat.
  7. Repeat this step at least 10 times to help build this skill.

We can also teach dogs to Drop without a human hand being present, such as when your dog might have something icky in her mouth (e.g., dead critter) … times when you will want no interaction other than giving the verbal cue and rewarding the desired behavior. (Note the difference in Step 2 below.)

Steps to Teach Your Dog to Drop a Coveted Item 

  1. Offer your dog a toy she is likely to hold in her mouth.
  2. Observe and wait until she drops the object.
  3. Say “yes” as she releases the toy and offer a treat.
  4. Continue with steps 4-7 from above.

More important, whenever you’re not training, manage your dog’s environment to help prevent her from practicing behaviors that can be dangerous.

To be continued … Please watch this column for steps and tips for teaching inquisitive canines how to “Leave It” and “Come” on cue!

Joan Hunter Mayer is a certified canine behavior consultant, certified professional dog trainer, and founder of The Inquisitive Canine. She and her team are devoted to offering humane, pawsitive, practical solutions that work for the challenges dogs and their humans face in everyday life. Joan offers training and behavior consulting services both in person and online, dedicated to strengthening the human-canine bond. If you are feeling inquisitive and have dog training questions, email advice@theinquisitivecanine.com and click here for more training tips. The opinions expressed are her own.