‘Drop it’ is such an important behavior to teach your dog for so many reasons. Below are two strategies for teaching it by trainers who use positive reinforcement. Both approaches will get you to the end result of your dog dropping something.
I know Barbara through the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators (IAATE), have been fortunate to have taken several of her workshops, and have written several articles for her Good Bird Magazine in the past. Barbara is an internationally renowned trainer whose experience inludes consulting in zoos and other animal related facilities around the globe. She has been a part of the development and production of more than 15 different free flight education programs and has worked with 20 different animal facilities. You can learn more about her at her website.
Below is an excerpt from one of her past Good Bird Magazine issues:
Puppies are notorious for chewing up all sorts of contraband. Despite my best efforts to keep all items I did not want chewed up from the floor, I knew there would be moments when my favorite shoes might end up in my puppy’s mouth. I decided to teach a strong ‘drop’ behavior.
To do this, I armed myself with Waylon’s absolute favorite treats hidden in my fist. I offered Waylon an acceptable chew toy such as a stuffed animal. As he was chewing, I place my closed fist full of treats next to the toy, when he would stop chewing and smell my closed fist, I bridged (said the word ‘good’) and opened my fist so that he could get a treat. This was repeated several times, until the presentation of my fist would quickly cause him to drop what was in his mouth. I then added a verbal cue as well. I chose the oh, so clever, word ‘drop’.
My next step was to raise the bar a bit. I offered Waylon something he enjoys more than a stuffed toy, his squeaky ball. This was followed by even more enticing items, including a bone. Every time Waylon dropped the item he received a treat, or in some cases I simply offered back the item he had dropped, or another fun chewable item. When the day came when he found a shoe, I walked up to Waylon as I would under any circumstances. This meant no chasing, yelling or shrieks that my shoe was in his mouth. I calmly gave him the drop cue and the shoe left his mouth unscathed and hit the floor. I also did not have a treat in my hand, which was not a problem. My goal had always been that the treat would be phased out from being hidden in the hand. This time I gave him lots of praise and attention, which worked fine as a reinforcer. Now I regularly reinforce with all sorts of things…a treat, giving back the item he dropped, attention, another acceptable chew toy, etc. I so enjoy that he will drop even the smallest item when cued. And he does it eagerly knowing something else he enjoys is sure to follow.
Below is a video by London, England based Domesticated Manners.
Note the video has a disclaimer: I would suggest that you do not use this with dogs who are “protective” over their food or other resources but work with a qualified behaviourist / trainer who may use a similar exercise if they see it to be beneficial and/or appropriate in your particular case.