How Can I Teach My Dog to Drop a Toy?

Dog Pulling Toy
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Q: How do I teach my dog to let go of a toy he is holding in his mouth? He thinks it’s a game of tug when I try to take a toy away.

A: One of the first commands dogs should learn is “drop it,” which teaches them to willingly let go of an item in their mouth, whether it be a toy, chew or miscellaneous item they may have picked up. Drop it can be a lifesaver if your dog has something dangerous in his mouth. I’ve used this before when my dogs have picked up something during a walk or around the house, such as a food item I didn’t want them ingesting. It’s also an essential behavior for dogs to know for polite play.

Drop it is also helpful for teaching dogs to let go of valued resources willingly, which is important in preventing resource guarding. If your dog already shows signs of resource guarding, such as acting aggressively or anxiously (growling, snarling, snapping, freezing in place or showing the whites of his eyes) when you approach his toys, food or resting places, contact your veterinarian for further help and a possible referral to a trainer or animal behaviorist, since this is a critical issue that needs to be addressed by a professional.

If your dog is not guarding his toys but is holding on to them as a form of play, drop it can be an excellent solution.

Teach Your Dog to Drop It

Start with an item your dog doesn’t place a high value on but is likely to put in his mouth, such as a rope toy. Say “take it” and give him the toy. While some dogs may immediately grab the toy, others may need to be coaxed; make this part more exciting by waving the toy excitedly or shaking it right by the ground. You may even need to use a low-value chew, such as a plain rawhide. As soon as your dog takes the toy, praise him.

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