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Teach Your Pup to Drop Things When Told

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

irish terrier holding toy

An Irish Terrier holding a toy. If for any reason you want him to give you the toy (or drop it), this article will show you how to make that happen.

There will be times in your pup's life when you want him to give up an object that he is clutching in his mouth.

sign at crossroads says Jake Story"Jake, let go!" Kathy said in frustration. Her dog had pounced on her scarf and was clinging to it while Kathy tugged fruitlessly at the other end. R-i-i-i-p-p!  went the scarf, and Kathy wailed in despair. With both hands, she tried to pry his jaws apart. Jake wagged his tail, but refused to let go.

How frustrating! Fortunately, there is a simple solution.

Teach your pup to open his mouth and let go

With your pup on leash, get him playing with a favorite toy. When he has it in his mouth, say in a cheerful voice, "Give" (or "Drop") and take hold of the toy with your hand.

Although he doesn't know what Give  means yet, if he understands the proper leader-follower relationship he might automatically relinquish the toy out of respect. Say, "Yes!" or "Good!" to reinforce his choice and give him a treat if you happen to have one in your pocket.

Then (unless the object was something he shouldn't have had in the first place, such as your sneaker or a dead mouse!), give the toy back  and let him play some more before repeating.

Returning a toy to him, after he has given it up, makes the pup more willing to give up things. Of course you can't do this all day long, so after a couple rounds of Take & Return, just keep the toy and put it away. You can substitute a treat if you have one.

dog holding onto scarfNow, if your pup won't let go of the object, if he clamps down or tries to engage in a tug of war with it....

....stand very still and hold your end of the toy as still as possible while repeating "Give" in a calm but firm voice.

Your stillness makes the game much less fun for your pup – he sees that you're refusing to play, so he's more likely to let go. If he does, praise him cheerfully, then return it to him.

If your holding the toy still didn't make him let go, and if he is not aggressive, work your way along the leash to his collar, which gives you control of his head. Say again, "Give" and open his mouth. There are two ways to get your pup to open his mouth:

  • Pressure on his lower  jaw. Place your hand under his jaw, palm up. Your thumb should be on one side of his jaw, your four fingers on the other side. Using all five fingers, press his LIPS inward against his TEETH as you say, "Give!" Most pups dislike the feeling of their lips pressing on their teeth and will open their mouth.
  • Pressure on his upper  jaw. Place your hand on TOP of his muzzle. Your thumb should be on one side of his muzzle, your four fingers on the other side, with the top of his muzzle nestled in the crook between your thumb and forefinger. Press all five fingers against his lips so that his lips press inward against his teeth. Again, his mouth should open.

If your pup has aggressive tendencies or you feel intimidated about fussing with his mouth, do something safer – hold up another toy and repeat "Give."

Many dogs are firm believers that the grass is always greener on the other side and will drop the object they have so they can have the new and "better" one. If he does that, praise him with enthusiasm and give him the second toy. Essentially you're trading with him.

Now, this isn't ideal. You want your pup to drop an object when told,  not just to get something else. But that should come as you continue to establish your leader-follower relationship.

Can you say "Out" instead of "Give"?

Sure. People who train dogs for protection work or competitive canine events often use "Out" to mean let go.  It's a perfectly good word.

But most pet owners use "Out" to mean Go outside in the yard  or Go out to the bathroom.

That's how I use it in my training program, where Out  means outside, while Give  means "let go of that object." But you can choose any word you want. For example, some owners use Drop  instead of Give.

I actually use both words. I say "Give"  when my dog is close enough to me that I can reach out my hand to take the object.

I say "Drop"  when my dog is farther away and I just want her to spit out whatever she has in her mouth. A dead bug, for example!

There is a strong safety component to this exercise. Canines are notorious for chewing and swallowing virtually anything. For his own safety, you must be able to get anything away from your pup.

But there is also a leadership component. Your ability to control what he has in his mouth is viewed by your pup  as the actions of a leader. So teaching "Give" is such a simple little thing, yet it helps develop a well-behaved pup who loves, trusts, AND respects you.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

My best-selling books – now available  FREE  on my website

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book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say. Click here to read for free.
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