How to teach “DROP IT”
Before you can teach “DROP IT” using this method, your dog must have some interest in a toy. (If your dog has no interest I’ll be posting on that soon!)
Try to avoid this cue sounding like any of your other cues. If you trained lie down as “DROP” don’t use “DROP IT” for this, it can be very confusing for your dog and often results in them doing the behaviour slowly. Some other options are “OUT” and “GIVE”.
Start with long tug toys that you can hold onto at the same time as your dog.
Encourage your dog to grab it with their mouth by showing them the toy and moving it around erratically on the floor. Once they have the toy in their mouth, keep moving it but gently and smoothly. Play for a few seconds.
Say your cue “DROP IT” and suddenly stop moving the toy. Not even one centimetre!
Immediately put a delicious treat 2cm in front of the dog’s nose and wait.
As the dog lets go of the toy to sniff the treat, say “YES” and quickly give the dog the treat.
The word “YES” is a marker word, its aim is to let the dog know exactly what they did to get the treat. Using the marker word with precision, in this case, at the exact instant the dog lets go of their toy, increases the speed at which the dog learns the “DROP IT” behaviour.
Putting the treat at the dog’s nose immediately after saying “DROP IT” and stopping movement increases the speed of the “DROP IT” behaviour. If you say “DROP IT” then stop moving, wait for a second or so, then put the treat near the dogs nose you’ll most likely end up with a slower toy drop.
Repeat this process several times until just saying the word “DROP IT” causes the dog to let go of the toy without the treat being put near the nose first. When this starts happening you STILL need to give your dog a treat for letting go of the toy for at least the next 10 times.
Once your dog always lets go of the toy immediately after saying “DROP IT”, you can start reducing treats by giving a treat only every 2nd time the dog drops the toy. Just present the toy, say “GET IT” and continue playing the other time – the reward for those times is continued play with you.
Phase out treats very slowly! This is where many people go wrong - by only treating one day and expecting the behaviour to last forever. After a few days of practice, reduce the number of treats to roughly every 3rd time, then every 4th time after a few days at that level. And so on and so forth, until you no longer need to give a treat for most toy drops. If the speed of the ‘’DROP IT’’ is slowing down or they are not doing it, go back to treating more regularly.
Say your cue “DROP IT” only once. Repeated words can become background noise meaning they’re less likely to be listened to in the future. You don’t want to have to repeat yourself over and over and hope that your dog listens the 5th time you say it!
Depending on your dog’s interest in toys vs food you may have to use real meat or fresh treats to get a fast drop for very toy focussed dogs or dry food for gluttons who don’t even want to play when food is on offer.
Cut the treats up very small, about the size of a tic tac. Try to keep total training treats to less than 10% of the dog’s diet.
Play with your dog multiple times a day, but for very short sessions: 2-3 minutes, up to 4-6 times a day.
You only need to mark with a “YES” the first few times when you are definitely going to reward your dog with a treat. The marker word is used when training a new behaviour or adding criteria. Once you are at the stage of reducing rewards, there is no need to mark the behaviour every time.
An alternative method of teaching “DROP IT” is to have two identical toys. Play with one toy for a little while, then say “DROP IT” and stop moving it completely. Move the other identical toy around and they should let go to play with the more fun moving toy.
Once your dog has the hang of the “DROP IT” cue with a long tug toy, you can start playing with smaller toys and finally apply it to small toys such as balls.
If your dog is still struggling with this cue, comment below and I’ll do my best to help :)