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Imagine going to your local pet store with your dog. You are ready to check out, but you need to write a check and your hands are full of items that you are trying very hard not to drop. Now imagine being able to hand your purse to your dog, for him to hold, while you pay and gather up your things.
Having your older dog trained to hold something is very useful. You can use it to make your friends laugh by having your dog hold funny items for you. You can use it while duck hunting, to keep your dog from dropping his bird on his way back to you. You can train your dog to do service work, and have your dog assist you with grasping items and carrying things.
Training your older dog to hold an object is very similar to teaching your younger dog to hold an object. You will need to consider a couple of additional things though.
First, you need to consider whether or not your older dog can hold an item without the item causing him pain. Older dogs are more likely to have dental problems, so take care to ensure that your dog does not seem in pain while doing this.
Secondly, you need to consider whether or not your older dog can hear and see well. If your older dog cannot hear or see well, you will need to modify the training a bit. For a hearing-impaired dog, you will need to replace the "Hold" command with a visual hand signal, and for a vision-impaired dog, you will need to allow extra time for your dog to sniff the objects and tools that you are using.
Almost all dogs can succeed at this if they are given enough time and opportunity to practice. Dogs that naturally carry things in their mouths, such as Golden Retrievers and Labradors, are likely to learn this more quickly than other breeds. Expect this to take between one and three weeks, with practice every day.
To get started, you will need a leash, some of your dog's favorite small, tasty treats, and one or two different, six to twelve inch long objects. Objects that can easily fit into your dog's mouth. Objects such as retrieval bumpers, stuffed dog toys, or rubber chew toys work well.
Choose a calm location to train this at, such as inside your home or a fenced yard. You can practice having your dog hold objects in more distracting locations once your dog has mastered the calmer locations.
Keep things fun, and if you find yourself getting frustrated, end the training session on a successful note and come back to it later, when you are feeling better.
The Chin Cup Method
Start by getting your dog interested in the object by moving the object around rapidly. You can kick it, toss, or get silly with it by making it run across the ground in front of your dog.
Praise and offer object
As soon as your dog grabs the object in his mouth or makes a motion towards the item, praise him excitedly and allow him to bite the object if he tries to.
Repeat this game several times with your dog, until your dog will eagerly grab the object in his mouth.
Once your dog is comfortable with the object, begin telling your dog to "hold" the object when he puts it in his mouth.
Praise and release
Praise your dog for holding the item, even briefly, and tell your dog "OK" when he begins to spit the item out.
Reward your dog every time he holds the item in his mouth by praising him while he is holding it there, and by giving him a treat after you tell him "OK" and he spits it out.
Increase the amount of time that your dog has to hold the item in his mouth before he is told "OK" and receives his reward. For every five successful repetitions of 'hold', increase the length of holding time by five seconds.
Close his mouth
If he begins to spit the object out before he has been told "OK", gently place your hand under his lower jaw and tap it to discourage him from opening his mouth. Praise him if he stops trying to spit the object out when you do this. Only do this with dogs that are friendly and comfortable with being touched.
Phase out your hand
Once your dog can successfully hold the object for several minutes, begin decreasing your hand taps as a reminder. Do this until he does not need to be reminded by it at all.
Once your dog can hold the object for several minutes on his own, introduce many different object in many different locations, until your dog is a master of holding things wherever you go!
The Leash Loop Method
Create the leash loop
Begin by clipping the end of your leash onto the length of your leash, making a loop that is a few inches wider than your dog's open-mouthed muzzle.
Introduce the loop
Show your dog the loop and reward him with a treat for touching it, for sniffing it, or for placing his mouth into it.
Introduce the object
Show your dog the object and entice him to bite the object by making the object move or by putting a treat on the object.
Add the command
Once your dog will bite onto the object, begin to tell him "Hold", and praise him whenever the object is in his mouth
Add the loop
When the object is in your dog's mouth, slip the loop loosely over his muzzle and praise him.
Close his mouth
With the loop over his muzzle, command your dog to "hold", and lift up on the leash so that the loop closes your dog's mouth any time his lower jaw opens to spit the object out.
After a few seconds, tell your dog "OK" and lower the loop so that he can spit the object out.
Reward him with a treat as soon as the object leaves his mouth after being told "OK".
Repeat and add time
Repeat the process, but after every five successful repetitions, increase the amount of time that your dog holds the object by five seconds.
Practice with other objects
Once your dog can successfully hold the object for several minutes at a time, start practicing with many different items and in new locations, gradually increasing the difficultly level as you progress.
The Touch Method
Show the object
Begin by showing your dog the object that you wish for him to hold.
Reward him by praising him and giving him a treat if he attempts to touch, sniff, or bite the object.
If he does not touch the object when you show it to him, entice him to touch it by placing a treat against it, or by making the object move around excitedly.
When he touches the object, command him to "hold", and praise him and offer him a treat for doing so.
Once he will consistently touch the object when commanded to "Hold", increase the difficultly by only giving him the treat when he puts his mouth on the object rather than when he simply touches the object.
Add a release command
When the object is in his mouth, praise him and tell him "OK" to indicate that he can drop the object.
Once he will consistently put the object in his mouth, increase the amount of time that he has to hold the object there before telling him "OK" and giving him a treat. For every five successful repetitions of 'hold', increase the amount of time that he has to hold the item by five seconds.
Practice with different objects
Once he can hold the object in his mouth for several minutes and not drop it until he is told "OK", practice having him hold many different objects. Practice in many different locations until he can easily hold anything that you hand to him, and impress all of your friends.
Written by Caitlin Crittenden
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 01/08/2018, edited: 01/08/2021
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