How to Train Your Dog to Pick up Dropped Items

How to Train Your Dog to Pick up Dropped Items
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon2-3 Weeks
Chores training category iconChores

Introduction

Darn, picked up something heavy the wrong way and put your back out again! Can't bend over to get your socks or keys (or anything else for that matter) off the floor? What if your dog could do it for you? Having your dog able to pick items up off the floor and bring them to you could be a game that's fun for your dog, or it could come in really handy and be super useful if you can't bend over!  Some dogs even learn to identify and pick up items by name.

A Border Collie named Chaser is able to identify over 1,000 items by name and fetch them--now that's a smart and useful dog! While you may not need your dog to pick up 1,000 items, teaching him to pick up dropped keys, a wallet, or clothing items is not that difficult, gives your dog a job to do, which is good for his mental stimulation, and builds your relationship with your dog by working as a team.  Plus, involving dogs in daily tasks is good for their emotional development.

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Defining Tasks

Teaching your dog to pick up items you have dropped is not that hard for dogs that mouth naturally. It can be a little more challenging for dogs that don't, but there are ways to encourage and train mouthing behavior, and even a non-mouthy dog can be taught to pick up dropped items. Dogs can be taught at a relatively young age to pick up items off the floor with their mouths and bring them to you. If you teach a young dog, they should have developed good permanent teeth so that baby teeth are not ripped out or damaged. Remember that teaching the dog to let go of an item is just as important as teaching him to pick up the dropped item. Otherwise, his picking up behavior will not be that useful to you. You can even add names and verbal commands to common household items you want your dog to pick up off the floor, such as keys or socks, or teach a command to “pick up” whatever you point at. The dog should pick up the item, bring it to you, and then release it to you when asked to “give it”.  You can make a game of this while training so that your dog finds it fun.

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Getting Started

Start by using an item that your dog can easily pick up, like an empty toilet paper roll, a toy, or a small article of clothing. For dogs that are not “mouthy” you may need to teach them mouthing behavior with a narrow chew toy such as a small soft chew or rawhide stick, and transfer the mouthing behavior to a chopstick and then larger items. You will need lots of high value treats to reward the behavior you are developing and a clicker to capture the behavior is very useful. Teach your dog the 'give it' or 'drop it' command with a toy that they carry in their mouth prior to teaching your dog to pick up dropped items to make the behavior easier to develop.

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The Shape Target Method

Most Recommended

2 Votes

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Most Recommended

2 Votes

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1

Place item

Place an item for your dog to pick up, such as an empty toilet paper roll, on the ground, wait with a clicker and a treat.

2

Reinforce touch

When your dog touches the item, click and treat. Repeat multiple times until the dog recognizes you are clicking and rewarding him for targeting the item.

3

Reinforce nudge

Increase the target behavior required for a click and treat. Wait for your dog to nudge the item with his nose, click and treat.

4

Reinforce mouth

Increase the required interaction with the item further. Wait for your dog to mouth the item, then click and treat. Ignore other behavior, but do not punish your dog for not exhibiting the target behavior required.

5

Reinforce pick up

Wait for your dog to pick the item up in his mouth. While mouthing, click, give lots of praise and multiple treats--this is a big step. Always end training sessions on a positive note, when you can click and reward your dog for exhibiting a targeting behavior.

6

Add command

Add a command, click and reward your dog for picking up the item.

7

Shape 'bring'

Move the item further away, command pick up, wait for your dog to pick up item and then encourage him to you with a command like 'fetch', or 'bring'. Click and treat approximations of your dog bringing the item to you, requiring him to bring the item closer each time.

8

Reinforce 'pick up', 'bring', 'give'

When your dog is picking up and bringing you the item, start extending your hand and asking him to 'give it', click and reward when your dog gives you the item.

The Teach Mouthing Method

Effective

1 Vote

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Effective

1 Vote

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1

Present soft chew item

If you have a dog that does not naturally mouth an item, you may need to teach your dog to handle things with their mouth first. Start with a soft skinny chew item and hold it in front of your dog, as it is easier for the dog then putting it on the floor.

2

Reinforce mouth item

When your dog mouths the chew item, click and reward with a high value treat, hold on to the chew item.

3

Transfer to hard chew item

Start transferring the mouthing behavior to a hard rawhide chew item, click and reward for mouthing.

4

Move toward floor

Put the item closer to the floor, click and reward for mouthing behavior.

5

Put item on floor

Put the item on the floor, click and reward your dog when he touches it with his mouth.

6

Use stick

Transfer to a non chew item like a chopstick, which resembles the rawhide chew. Click and reward your dog for putting the stick in his mouth. Repeat, end each training session on a positive note with a click and reward for an accomplished behavior.

7

Transfer to items

Transfer to an item you want your dog to pick up like a toy, then keys or a sock, click and reward.

8

Add commands

Add verbal commands and names, continue to reinforce with a click and treat.

The Name Items Method

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1 Vote

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Least Recommended

1 Vote

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1

Present item

Hold an item such as your keys in one hand and a treat in the other hand.

2

Name item reinforce touch

When your dog touches the item such as keys, add the name specific for the item. Say "yes" and provide a treat for touching behavior. It is better to add the command after the behavior is initiated so that the dog is not confused by your giving him a command repeatedly that he does not understand. Name the behavior after your dog starts to perform it then precede the behavior with the command.

3

Put item on floor

Put the keys on the floor.

4

Reinforce touch on floor

Say “keys” and reward your dog for touching the keys,

5

Reinforce mouth on floor

Wait for him to mouth the keys. Say "pick up keys", then reward him for mouthing the keys.

6

Reinforce pick up from floor

Wait for him to pick up keys. Say "pick up keys", reward, when your dog has started picking up the keys in his mouth start giving the command for pick up keys prior to him picking them up.

7

Increase distance

Move the item such as the keys further away from you. Give the command for 'pick up keys'. When your dog picks up the keys, call him and say "give it" or "drop it", extend your hand.

8

Add items

Once you have established the command and behavior of picking up the named item, you can name and add other items the same way Each item will become easier as your dog learns.

By Laurie Haggart

Published: 10/20/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Makai

Dog breed icon

Akita

Dog age icon

7 Months

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Question

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0 found helpful

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My dog is lazy. How can I motivate him to train.

July 30, 2021

Makai's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, Some dogs aren't very food motivated or only like certain foods. I would try a few different food options first, including freeze dried liver, fresh chicken, or even random things like baby carrots, just avoid any of the foods that aren't dog safe. If pup isn't food motivated even after trying a few things, see if pup is motivated by something else like toys. Try a few types of toys, like balls, chew toys, tug toys, and flirt poles to name a few categories. If pup is play motivated, you can give a little play for a few seconds after pup obeys a command as a reward. Pup may also be motivated by praise, affection, or something practical - like obeying sit before being given their dinner, let outside, allowed on the couch, petted, given a toy, ect... Check out these videos by Zak George on getting a dog excited about toys. Often moving the object around can excite pup enough to put their mouth on it - at which point you can praise and reward with whatever you have found motivates pup. If pup likes peanut butter, liver paste, or soft cheese, a little of that can also be dabbed onto the dropped item to encourage pup to put their mouth on it at the beginning of training. Fetching - notice how he moves the toy to gain interest before tossing- when starting to teach pup to pick up stationary objects, you want to get pup interested by moving them around before transitioning to pup picking up things that don't move: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-uUQE32FuU&t=23s More fetching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtpLvumSTzI Three ways to get a dog playing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8Z0EOHPNfI How to reward with toys instead of food: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDnJ7dwnSwo Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Aug. 2, 2021

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Aurther

Dog breed icon

Blue Heeler

Dog age icon

2 Years

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Question

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1 found helpful

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1 found helpful

My dog is currently training as a service dog and has to pass a public access test to become one. we are having trouble with one main part of the test though. he has to wait in the car until i let him out then let me put his harness on. How can i get him to where he waits in the car and lets me put his harness on without ducking me?

Feb. 25, 2021

Aurther's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jordan, I would start by practicing at doorways at home first, teaching the Wait command. Attach a thirty foot leash to a padded back clip harness that he can't slip out of. Attach the other end of the leash to something sturdy like a stairway banister (the leash is a safety measure). With the leash slack and only there "just in case", act like you are going out the door. Start to open the door and whenever pup tries to go toward it quickly close it while saying "Wait". Your goal isn't to hit him but he may get a slight bump if he is especially pushy. Practice opening and closing the door until you can open it and he will wait until it is open further. When he is waiting a bit, then get between him and the door and play goalie with the opening. Opening the door wide enough for you to get through, then whenever pup tries to get through firmly but calmly take several steps toward him to make him back up. By doing this you are communicating that you own that space and asking for his respect. Don't worry about bumping into him a bit if he won't move out of the way - your attitude needs to mean business without being angry at all. Once you can open the door and he will stay back and not try to rush through, then you can click and toss a treat. You will gradually practice opening the door more and more and blocking him from getting through and walking toward him to make him back up and wait. Take steps toward him until he is at least two feet from the door AND two feet away from you - those two distances often equal him giving you respect (and not simply waiting to get past you when you move), and waiting at the door (instead of trying to bolt). It will feel a lot like you are a soccer goalie, having to be quick and focused. When you can open the door completely and he will wait, take a step through the doorway. If he tries to follow, rush toward him, making him backup again quickly. This serves as a natural consequence and encourages him to stay back. If he waits patiently, then click and toss a treat as his paws. Practice at that distance until he will stay back. As he improves, take more and more steps, moving outside, onto your porch and into your yard eventually. Be ready to quickly rush toward him as soon as you see him start to move, to keep him from getting outside (this is why you back the long leash on him, just in case he gets past you, but for training purposes the goal is to keep him from getting out so he isn't rewarded for bolting). When he will stay inside while you stand in the yard, then recruit others to be distractions outside. Expect to stay a bit closer to him when you first add a hard distraction - like another dog walking past, a walker, kids playing in the yard, balls being tossed. Imagine what types of things he may one day see outside and choose distractions that are at least that difficult to practice this around. Once pup has learned wait well at other doors, when in the car, tie the other end of pup's leash to something secure in the car, with enough slack that he doesn't feel it unless he approaches the car door, but not so slack pup could get past the door opening - this is important - you don't want pup to be able to jump partly out of the car then get caught midair - too loose and that could happen, you just want something to keep pup from being able to take off if he tried to get past you. With the leash secure, tell pup Wait as soon as you open the door to get him, while your body is still blocking him. Practice taking a step away from pup whenever he is waiting patiently and not looking like he is about to try to jump out, reward if pup stays put when you take a step back, and quickly move toward him blocking his exit if he tried to move toward the door (remember the leash is tied so he can't succeed also). Practice this, adding steps as pup improves, until pup will effectively wait inside the car with the door wide open, even while you are a few feet away and not in the doorway, and there are distractions around, like at the park. Once pup is waiting well for you, then practice putting pup's harness on while he waits also. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Feb. 25, 2021


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