Teach Your Dog to Give or Drop an Item

Your dog’s got something in his mouth, and you need to get it back. Learn how to teach your dog to give or drop items on cue – happily, and with no conflict.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #192

It’s tempting to say that in an ideal world, our dogs would never put anything in their mouths we didn’t want them to have. In the ideal world, dogs don’t scavenge, they never pick inappropriate chew toys, and they never try to get a rise out of us because they’re bored. So in the ideal world, dogs wouldn’t be dogs. Okay, suddenly the ideal world sounds less ideal.

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Given that our dogs are dogs and will put things in their mouths, it’s nice when they also drop those things, willingly, when we ask them to. Here’s how to teach them.

First, what not to do. Do not get it into your head that you are the Alpha and you should just be able to take things away from your dog Because. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that some people get results by intimidating or startling their dog – they bellow “Dogalini, drop that!” and Dogalini says the doggy version of “Holy crap!” and drops it.

Given that dogs are dogs and will pick things up, it’s nice to teach them to spit things out happily when we ask them to.

Further developments can go in many different directions. If Mr. or Ms. Bellows then rewards Dogalini for dropping whatever it is, she might actually learn to drop things. That’s the best-case scenario. More likely, Dogalini won’t be quite as startled the second and third times she hears “Dogalini, drop that!,” she won’t drop the item as readily, and Mr. Bellows will bellow louder, with no particular result. Or maybe Dogalini’s naturally kind of timid, and Mr. Bellows gets used to being able to control her by shouting at her. How fun for both of them. Or, fourth possibility and just plain bad news: With hard looks, lip curls, growls, and maybe even bites, Dogalini learns to guard whatever Mr. Bellows tries to take from her.

If you’d rather have a dog who gladly spits things out when you ask him to, try these 3 steps instead.

Step #1: Trading for Food Up Front

  1. First, give your dog a toy or chew he likes. You can also have a training session when he’s become absorbed in a toy or chew on his own. Either way, the toy or chew should be one your dog likes but isn’t completely crazy over. Let him settle in with his prize. 

  2. Arm yourself with a few delicious treats such as tiny pieces of chicken or cheese or whatever else your dog just loves. If you use a clicker to mark your dog’s correct choices, get your clicker too. 

  3. Silently offer your dog one of the treats. He will probably drop the toy or chew to take the treat. The second he drops the toy or chew, click or say “Yes!” Quickly give the treat as you pick up the toy/chew.

  4. When your dog has finished eating the treat, offer him the toy/chew.

  5. You will probably find that after a few repetitions, your dog no longer wants to take the toy/chew. That’s fine; you can end the training session with a bonus treat, or go on to work on another behavior you’re training.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).