If you have a dog, you probably know just how much mischief he can get into with his mouth. That book or shoe he chewed up tells you that chewing is a favorite pastime, especially for younger dogs. Dogs love to pick up anything that smells like you - clothing, telephones, remote controls, etc. While sometimes this behavior amuses us, it can often be dangerous for your dog and expensive for you. Recently I worked with a dog who took batteries off of a counter, swallowed them whole and had to have emergency surgery to safely remove them.
The key to stopping this behavior comes with two very important words: “Drop it.” To train your dog, you’ll just need some treats, a clicker if you use one, a few chewable items and plenty of patience.
To get started, pull together some of your dog’s favorite toys. The goal here isn’t to keep your dog from chewing in the first place. It’s to teach your dog to drop an item on command. That way, if your dog ever is chewing on something undesirable, you can quickly correct the behavior. Also, tuck some treats into your pocket and out of sight from your dog.
It may seem counterintuitive, but in this step, you’re actually going to encourage the dog to pick up the item. Throw an object or give it to him in his mouth. Once the dog has the object in his mouth, offer him a treat in your hand. Let him sniff or lick the treat, but don’t let him eat it yet. Immediately when the dog opens his mouth to drop the object, click if you are using a clicker or say “yes” to mark the behavior as correct and then give him the treat from your pocket.
I can’t emphasize this enough, but when you issue a command to your dog, you should speak it firmly but in a gentle voice, never yelling. Dogs have incredible hearing so you don’t need to use a loud voice. I also recommend stating a command only once, never repeating it. Repeating a command just teaches a dog that it isn’t necessary to listen the first time. Say, “Drop it” and wait patiently until your dog lets it go.
When your dog does drop the object, pull one of the treats out of your pocket and reward him. Do not hold the treat in your hand or he will never drop something unless he sees the treat in your hand. At the same time, issue lots of well deserved praise – gooooood boy!
Once the dog understands what you want him to do, start adding the cue. Say “Drop it” just as he opens his mouth, then click and then treat. After 30 to 50 repetitions, he should understand the cue and drop the object knowing that a tasty treat is coming.
Once he fully understands the cue, replace the treat with praise to avoid overloading your dog with treats. Soon, you’ll be able to say, “Drop it” in any situation and your dog will drop whatever is in his mouth.
With the right approach, you can ensure your dog obeys your commands throughout his life. I go through some of the basics on my blog. If you’re getting a new dog soon, or you’ve already added one to your household, check out my blog for great tips and tricks for building a healthy, happy home for your new pet.