How To Teach Your Puppy To Drop It

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Your new puppy loves to pick up items. But he won’t give them up. 

Instead, he turns it into a game of chase. And he has four legs to your two and always wins the chase.

So, how do you teach your puppy to drop something?

In this article, I’ll discuss ways to get your puppy to drop something. Of course, dropping an item can be life-saving.

Lab Learning Drop It - toy in his mouth

Puppies explore the world with their mouths. But sometimes what they pick up isn’t safe, such as a television remote with batteries.

I’ve taught many dogs to drop an item on cue. When my Lhasa apso Ralphie was a puppy, he loved to pick anything he could reach. 

Of course, I puppy-proofed the house as much as possible. But I still had to teach him to give items up on command just in case something fell or if someone happened to leave the wrong item within his reach. 

It took time and consistency, but, eventually, he learned that dropping something on command was desirable.

Article Summary

  • Teaching your puppy to drop any item is very important. It can save his life if he picks up something that’s toxic or unsafe. 
  • But the command is useful in other situations too. If your puppy will give a toy up on command, you can play fetch with him and play tug and release. And you can even teach him tricks such as putting his toys away in a toy bin.
  • When teaching the “drop it” command, there are other commands that complement it and will make your training more likely to succeed.
  • Teaching him to also give up an item to your hand, to leave an item, and to readily come to you can also help your puppy not be injured or sickened by the wrong items.

Why You Should Teach Your Dog To Drop Something

Dogs love to investigate the world with their mouths. So your pup can easily pick up the wrong thing. 

Many items are toxic or harmful to dogs. Of course, you should puppy-proof and keep unsafe items out of the puppy’s reach.

What if you just brought in groceries and your puppy quickly gets hold of a sprig of grapes? 

Grapes are toxic to dogs. So, as soon as he gets hold of it, have him drop it on cue.

Even non-toxic items can be very dangerous to dogs. They may get hold of a plastic food wrapper or child’s toy, both of which can cause an intestinal blockage or damage internally.

Of course, even if you puppy-proof your home, unexpected things happen. It’s important that your pup drop something when told to for his own safety.

Also, if you teach your dog to drop something on cue, you won’t need to chase him to get something away from him. 

Many dogs pick something up because they’re chased to get it back. Of course, your dog thinks that playing keep-away is a great game. 

He runs away with the treasured item as if he’s found gold. But, for us, the game is no fun. 

Most dogs can outrun us. And, while they’re running away, the pup might ingest the item, leading to an expensive emergency vet visit.

Teaching your dog to drop something on command can also be useful when playing games with him. If you’re playing fetch with him, it’s important that he gives up the ball or other toy on command so that the game can continue.

Even if you’re playing tug with him, teaching him to release an item is important. 

If he learns to drop an item, the tug game can then continue on your terms without escalating too much. 

Some dogs become over-stimulated and may unintentionally nip you when playing tug if they don’t release the toy on cue. And some dogs may even guard the resource (the toy) if they’re not taught to release the toy. 

You can also teach your dog some cute tricks after he learns to drop something. For example, you can teach your pup to fetch a toy and bring it to his toy box, where he can drop it in on command.

I taught my sheltie Amber to retrieve a squeaky dog toy that looks like a basketball. I then also taught her to bring the ball to a toy basketball hoop, which I purchased at a toy store for children. 

The third step of the trick is when I taught her to drop the basketball into the basketball hoop on cue. It really entertained people. 

Amber and some other dogs I have did volunteer therapy work at a hospital and obedience and trick demos for people.

So there are many practical and fun reasons to teach your dog to drop an item.

How To Teach Your Puppy To Drop It

Before training your puppy to drop something, first make sure that he’s been exercised. A walk can help take the edge off so that he’s calmer and more able to focus on the training session. 

You always want to set your pup up for success.

And, again, don’t forget to puppy-proof your home as much as possible so that he can’t reach forbidden items. 

It’s not only unsafe for him to grab certain items, but even if the item he grabs doesn’t injure him, it teaches him that grabbing items is very rewarding.

Make sure that when you are teaching any new command there are no distractions. You always want to set your puppy up to succeed.

Pro-Trainer Tip: Use very high-value treats when teaching your puppy to release an item or to come to you. Both of these behaviors can ultimately save his life. Kibble won’t do. Use meat, cheese, or fish treat that he can’t resist. And mix it up during various training sessions, giving different treats sometimes, so that he doesn’t get bored.

Before your training session begins, you’ll need to have a few high-value treats ready that your pup can’t resist. The treats should be no larger than a pea. Also, have the items you’ll use to teach your puppy to drop an item ready. 

At first, you should use some toys he likes. Usually, soft toys with squeakers work well in the beginning because puppies usually are excited to grab them.

  • You can start with the puppy in front of you. Have a reward treat ready. 
  • Gently wave the toy just in front of your puppy’s nose. You can even squeak it to get him more excited to grab the toy. 
  • As soon as he grabs it, show him the mouth-watering treat. Tell him to drop the toy.
  • If he drops the toy, immediately praise him (Yes!) and give him the reward treat.
  • Repeat this three more times, then end the session with a game of fetch with the toy.
  • If he didn’t drop the toy, make sure that he’s hungry before you begin the training session. Also, use higher-value treats such as meat or cheese. Hot dogs or cheese cut up into small pieces that are the size of a pea can really entice most puppies to give up a toy. Another trick is that maybe the toy you’re initially using is too valued by your puppy. Start with a less-valued toy before working up to him releasing his favorite stuffie.

In the beginning, you’ll show him the yummy treat–the lure–prior to his dropping it. 

But after he eagerly drops various toys and chews while in different places, then start fading the lure. That is, stop showing him the treat all the time before he drops it.

But still give him the great treat and praise him immediately after he drops an item.

What if your puppy takes the toy and runs off with it before you can do an exchange? Have him on a six-foot leash that’s tethered to you or that a helper next to you holds.

Eventually, after a few training sessions with one toy, start to vary what you teach him to drop. Teach him to drop all of his toys, one at a time. 

Also teach him to drop any items he’s allowed to chew, such as a Kong, bully stick, bone, or Nylabone. Of course, in each training session, just work with one or two items. Have him drop the items a few times each.

Of course, you don’t want to give him items he shouldn’t have to test whether he’ll drop them. 

Otherwise, he’ll think that it’s alright to take such items. And there’s a chance that he might not give it up willingly. Then, he would be rewarded for taking something that he shouldn’t have.

But you want to be sure that he’ll drop anything eventually. So, after he is willing and quickly drops the various toys and chews that you practice with, have him drop them in various situations other than training sessions with you nearby. 

Only do this when he’s very reliable about immediately dropping those items. 

At the next level of training, have a few of his less-valued toys in the room you’re both in. When he picks one up, tell him to drop it and praise (Yes! Good drop!) and reward with the irresistible treat. 

You can even give him two or three treats in a row–a jackpot–when he does this, to really reinforce what a good job he did. 

Then, go pick up the toy he had and move it to another place in the room. Do this a few times during your training session. Always end on a positive note. 

Do various training sessions in different rooms he’s allowed in. After he’s successful inside, do the same training exercises outside. First, do it on leash as you practiced inside. 

Then, eventually, do it off a leash only if your puppy’s in a safe, enclosed area without unsafe items in the yard. 

You want him to eventually generalize that he has to drop whatever you tell him to.

Only after your puppy routinely drops items when told to, once in a while don’t give him a treat. But still, praise him. 

Eventually, the goal is to randomly reinforce with treats so that he’ll perform the drop behavior even without treats. But don’t rush the process of weaning down treats too fast, or he’ll stop reliably releasing the item.

What To Do in Case of an Emergency

What should you do if your puppy gets hold of something that he shouldn’t have before he’s reliable at dropping anything? Don’t panic. I know that it’s easier said than done as sometimes we can’t help but panic.

Grab a few yummy treats, throw them down, and tell him to “get them.” The goal, of course, is to get him to drop the forbidden item and scarf up the great food rewards. 

What if he doesn’t go for the treats? It may be because he didn’t know what “get them” means. 

So a few times a week, play a game using that phrase so that he learns what it means. Once in a while, throw a few treats down and tell him “get them” immediately after he retrieves a ball. 

Praise him for dropping the ball while he’s eating the treats. By doing this, he’ll know what “get them” means when needed in an emergency situation. And he should then run to eagerly eat the yummy, special treats.

You don’t want to chase him, as most dogs will run away with the forbidden item–exhilarated by the game of chase. Instead, run a short distance away from your puppy, making a happy sound like “WHEEE,” so that he’ll chase you. 

Then, you can use the “get it” phrase before throwing the treats after he reaches you. You can also train an emergency recall this way (discussed below) so that he’ll come to you no matter what the distracting setting is.

Other Important Commands for Giving an Item Up

There are other commands that really compliment the “drop it” command. Of course, you want to teach each command separately so that your puppy doesn’t get confused. Teach in short training sessions–five to 10 minutes at most. 

One command is “give.” In teaching a dog to give an item up, I hold onto the item. 

I may wave it around a little in front of the puppy’s nose so that he’s interested in it. And I may even squeak it to pique his interest. 

The second that the puppy’s teeth touch the toy, I tell him to “give,” after showing him the yummy lure treat. I praise and reward after he removes his teeth from the toy. 

It’s basically the same process as the drop command only I hold onto the toy to teach him to release it to my hand. Then, just as I taught him in the “drop it” command, I use different toys and chews he can have. 

And I’ll train the “give” command in different locations inside and outside. You want your puppy to generalize that he has to give up any item that you tell him to wherever he is.

Another important command that complements the “drop it” command is the “leave it” command

This command is for leaving items that he shouldn’t and cannot have such as the TV remote, the napkin, or the chicken bone that falls. 

You need to train this on leash until he really understands what the command means and will perform it in any location. Of course, it takes a lot of time, patience, and consistency to teach a puppy the “leave it” command. 

After a puppy learns to not grab an item–to leave it–he won’t potentially be injured grabbing things that he shouldn’t have. 

But, it’s still important to teach him to drop something on command just in case he does put it in his mouth.

Another command that I think is very useful when teaching a puppy to drop something is to teach an emergency recall. This is in addition to teaching the “come” command

Teaching an emergency recall can save a puppy’s life. It can also teach a puppy to come when he picks up a forbidden item.

When he finally does come, never correct him. Instead, still make it a party and give a few treats in a row–a jackpot–in addition to your excited, happy verbal praise. 

So, how do you teach it? First, have some yummy, irresistible treats in hand. Show them to your puppy at first as a lure. Then say something high-pitched and happy sounding. 

I’ve had a lot of success teaching puppies to come by saying “puppy, puppy, puppy” in a very happy, high-pitched tone. 

Then, when your puppy comes to you, make it a party! Praise, give a few treats in a row, and pet him if he finds that rewarding. 

Have him come using this emergency recall a few times a day. After he comes reliably for a few days, stop showing the treat as a lure and just give it as a reward. 

Of course, still reinforce his behavior of coming with praise too.

You can use the emergency recall in a pinch to get your dog to come to you when he’s gotten something that he shouldn’t have. 

To make it even more fun, as you say “puppy, puppy, puppy,” run a few feet in the other direction so that he’ll want to follow you. 

Then, when he reaches you, don’t correct him. Instead, do a “drop it” if he knows that command. Remember to first give him a few treats in a row for coming as well as happy praise. 

He may automatically drop what he has for the treats. If he doesn’t, use the “get them” where you throw a few (at least five) treats, scattered, down. 

Assuming that you’ve practiced this as described above, he should go after the treats and drop the forbidden object.

What NOT To Do: Don’t Try This at Home

You should never be harsh when trying to take something from your dog. Try to use an exchange of a treat as described above. 

Teach him to drop items to the floor and to give them up to your hand. Praise and reward when he does. 

Don’t punish him for getting things that he shouldn’t. Instead, puppy proof better and teach him to drop items on command.

Don’t chase your puppy. He’ll think running away is a fun game. And, with four legs, he’ll probably be able to run faster than you do. 

Also, this will teach him something you don’t want him to learn: that running away from you is more fun than giving something up or coming to you.

And never punish him for coming to you–even if he has an item he shouldn’t have. Always praise and reward when he comes to you.

Don’t pry his jaws apart. Instead, teach him to release items. 

FAQs

How do I teach my dog to drop a toy or other item?

Exchange the item for a very high-value treat that your dog can’t resist. A high-value treat is usually cheese or meat.

What do I do if my puppy runs away with the toy I’m trying to teach him to drop?

Have him perform the exercise on a six-foot leash when teaching him the “drop it” command. 

What should I do if my puppy won’t drop the toy?

Use a lower-value toy at first. Make sure that he’s hungry when you try to train him to drop it. And use very high-value treats for the exchange for the toy.

Final Thoughts

Training a dog to drop an item takes time and patience.

But it can be done by using positive reinforcement. And it may save your puppy’s life someday.

What about you? Have you taught your puppy how to “Drop It”?

Tell us about your experiences in the comment section below.

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How To Teach Your Puppy To "Drop It" - Yellow Lab holding rubber toy in his mouth

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