How To Teach A Puppy The ‘Drop It’ Command

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Training your puppy to release objects from their mouth is an invaluable skill that all dogs should learn. 

Teaching the ‘drop it’ command teaches your puppy that not everything they find is something they can have.

This helps to ensure their safety as puppies, and any age dog, are naturally curious and will occasionally pick up something they shouldn’t have.

By teaching your puppy this early, and practicing regularly, they are more likely to let go of an object they can’t have than if they have yet to learn this.

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Preparing for Training

Before you start training your puppy, you need to gather your supplies and find a space to use.

Essential Training Supplies

Dog treats and three different dog toys.

To teach your puppy you will need several items:

Setting Up a Training Space

When you begin training your puppy to drop it on command you want your training space to be a familiar space that is quiet and free from distractions. 

This ensures your puppy can focus on the task at hand.

I did most of my dogs’ training in the living room as all our rooms are bedrooms and don’t have the space to practice training commands.

I just requested that my husband and kids either sit on the couch and be relatively quiet or go to another room until that training session was done.

My kids were old enough that they were usually able to stay in the room and not be distracting to our dogs.

And sometimes they even helped with the training.

Once your puppy is consistently following the ‘drop it’ command, then you can move to more distracting and new environments.

Teaching ‘Drop It’ Step by Step

Once you have collected all your items and are in your training space, it’s time to teach the ‘drop it’ command.

Offer a Treat for a Toy

A German Shepherd sniffing a tug toy.

The first step to teaching ‘drop it’ is to get your dog to let go of a toy in exchange for a treat.

To do this you first take a dog toy and get your dog to grab it.

Make the toy enticing if they are hesitant to take it.

Once your dog has the toy in their mouth, stay close to them and show them a tasty treat.

When your dog lets go of the toy, use a marker word, like ‘yes,’ or click a clicker and then give them a treat.

Do this several times until your dog drops the toy right away when they see the treat.

Add the Verbal Cue

Once your dog is consistently dropping the toy to get the treat, it’s time to add in the verbal cue.

Have your dog take the toy again, but this time say ‘drop it’ and then show them the treat.

When they let go of the toy say ‘yes’ and reward them with the treat.

Practice this several times with your dog.

Phase Out the Treats

Once your dog is consistently dropping the toy with the verbal command, it’s time to phase out the treats.

For this step, have your dog take the toy just like in previous steps.

Then tell your dog to ‘drop it’ but don’t show them the treat.

When they drop the toy, say ‘yes’ and reward with a treat.

Practice this several times.

If your dog is consistently dropping the toy without seeing the treat, you can start to reduce how often you give your dog a treat for dropping the toy.

At this point, you should aim for giving a treat more often than not giving a treat, but keep it random.

Dogs are smart and if you reward them with a treat in a pattern, they will figure that pattern out.

As your dog continues to do well with randomly being rewarded with treats, continue to reduce how often they get a treat.

Never drop down to no treats at all, as your dog may become unmotivated to listen to you.

The goal is to get them to listen to you in the hopes of getting a treat, but without expecting a treat.

As you phase out the treats you want to continue to give your dog positive reinforcement with praise and pets, even when you don’t give them a treat.

Increase the Distance

Once your dog is reliably letting go of the toy when you say ‘drop it’ with random treating, it’s time to increase the distance between you and your dog.

Start by taking only one step farther back from your dog than you were originally. 

Then practice ‘drop it’ several times with your dog with frequent treat rewards.

If your dog is consistently dropping the toy with frequent treats, cut down the frequency of treats again.

When your dog can consistently listen to ‘drop it’ at this slightly further distance with random treat rewards, move back a little more.

Continue moving farther away from your dog until you are across the room.

This can be done over several days and does not need to be done in a single session.

If, at any time, your dog starts having issues listening to the ‘drop it’ command, move back to the distance they were last successful at.

Then practice at that distance for a few training sessions before increasing the distance again.

Increase the Distractions

Once your dog is doing well with increased distance you can start increasing the distractions during a training session.

To do this, move back close to your dog and practice ‘drop it’ with a small distraction.

Examples of small distractions are dropping a second toy next to you, squeaking a toy, or having someone else in the room if you normally practice alone.

The type of distraction to use will depend on your dog. 

For some dogs, a toy squeaking is a major distraction, but other dogs don’t care at all.

Once your dog can reliably listen with a minor distraction, increase it to a bigger distraction.

Increase the level of the distraction slowly until your dog can listen to you during a big distraction.

An example would be to start with placing a second toy on the floor, then drop the toy, then throw the toy a short distance, and then throw it across the room.

Each level of distraction needs practice before moving to the next level.

Practice in Different Locations

A dog holding a toy in their mouth sitting outside surrounded by fallen leaves.

After your dog is doing well with increased distance and distractions, it’s time to start practicing in different places. 

Start by practicing in a new location in your home. 

If you normally practice in the living room, take the practice session to the kitchen.

Each time you move to a new location, start back at the beginning of teaching ‘drop it’.

Start close to your dog, limit distractions, and treat frequently.

As your dog is successful, slowly increase the difficulty in the same order you did in the first location.

Once your dog can successfully drop it in a new location at a distance, with distractions, move to another new location for the next session.

After your dog is consistently dropping it in multiple rooms in your home, it’s time to move your training sessions outside.

Outside is full of different smells and sounds and will be much harder on your dog than any room in your house.

Again, start close to your dog and limit as many distractions as possible. 

Starting in a familiar location, like your backyard, will make the transition to practicing outdoors as easy on your dog as possible.

Make sure to have short training sessions when outside, as longer sessions may be too difficult for your dog, at least at first.

Just like the previous step, start with frequent treat rewards at a close distance before reducing the treat frequency, distance, and distraction level.

Practice With Different Items

Once your puppy is reliably following the ‘drop it’ command with the toy you’ve been practicing with, switch it up.

Start practicing with a variety of items. 

This way your puppy will start to associate the command with any item instead of just that toy.

This is especially important for those occasions that they get something that could be a dangerous item, like a chicken bone (cooked chicken bones can splinter causing intestinal damage).

Practicing with different items is easiest when doing real world training. 

If you see your puppy with something they shouldn’t have, instead of just taking it from them, tell them to ‘drop it.’

When they do give them lots of praise and a treat.

Reinforcing the Skill

For your puppy to reliably learn the ‘drop it’ command, you need to reinforce the training regularly. 

Besides regular training sessions, practice randomly throughout the day.

If your puppy grabs something you don’t want them to have, use the ‘drop it’ command and reward with a treat and praise when they listen.

During play sessions, randomly say ‘drop it’ and reward with praise or a treat when they drop the toy.

Practicing during the day, as well as during dedicated training sessions, will help your puppy learn to listen no matter when you tell them to ‘drop it.’

Dealing with Resource Guarding

Resource guarding occurs when a puppy feels the need to protect valuable items, such as food, toys, or spaces. 

Signs of resource guarding are stiffening of the body and growly when you approach their prized possession.

If you believe your puppy is showing signs of resource guarding, it’s important to seek professional help.

You can ask your vet about it or seek the help of a professional trainer.

These people will be most able to help you with this issue before it becomes a bigger issue.

Maintaining Skills and Good Behavior

Once your puppy is consistently listening to ‘drop it’ in various situations, you need to work to maintain this skill.

Dog training is a lifetime commitment, though as your dog gets older they only need occasional practice sessions.

These sessions don’t have to be specific to one command, you can, and should, practice all the commands they have learned.

Also, reinforcing their training in normal life will help them maintain good behavior.

Common Mistakes

The most common mistake people make when trying to teach a dog to ‘drop it’ is to turn it into a game of tug.

If your dog doesn’t drop the item they have when you say ‘drop it’ do not try to force it from your dog’s mouth.

Doing this will make your dog think you are either trying to play a game or steal their item (especially if it’s a food item they don’t want to give up).

If your dog isn’t listening, it’s because the value of the item you have is too low compared to what they already have.

Find a higher-value item to get them to willingly drop it, and then give them tons of praise for dropping it.

Another common mistake is ending a training session on a bad note.

If your dog is struggling with this new command, practice something easy before you end each training session.

You want to end every session on a positive note so your dog is excited to practice the next time.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I encourage my puppy to release something without using treats?

You can encourage your puppy by using toys as a trade. 

Offer a second, more interesting toy and use a happy tone to entice them. 

Once they open their mouth to take the new toy, praise them for releasing the first one. 

This method relies on swapping rather than treats.

What techniques can be used when a dog grabs something dangerous and needs to let go?

If your dog grabs something dangerous, approach calmly and avoid chasing them. 

Use a firm ‘drop it’ command followed by offering an alternative safe item or a treat. 

If they already know the ‘drop it’ command, any treat may be good enough, but offering a higher-value treat may help encourage your dog to drop the item.

It’s crucial to practice the “drop it” command regularly, so your dog understands and responds reliably in dangerous situations.

How should I react when my dog doesn’t want to relinquish an object?

Remain calm and avoid turning it into a tug-of-war game. 

If ‘drop it’ doesn’t work and the item isn’t dangerous to your dog, cease all attention until your dog loses interest in the object. 

Once they drop it, praise them to reinforce the desired behavior. 

If they have something dangerous to them, try offering them a better treat. 

If regular dog treats aren’t good enough, try a small piece of cheese or hot dog. 

The goal is to get them to let go of the dangerous object without forcing it from your dog’s mouth.

If your dog is not relinquishing the object during training, you may be using high-value items for your dog to start with.

You want to use low-value items at first with a higher-value treat to entice them to drop the first item to get the treat.

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Teach a Puppy to Lie Down

How to Teach a Puppy “Leave It”

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