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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.
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.
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.
The Shape Target Method
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.
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.
Increase the target behavior required for a click and treat. Wait for your dog to nudge the item with his nose, click and treat.
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.
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.
Add a command, click and reward your dog for picking up the item.
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.
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
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.
Reinforce mouth item
When your dog mouths the chew item, click and reward with a high value treat, hold on to the chew item.
Transfer to hard chew item
Start transferring the mouthing behavior to a hard rawhide chew item, click and reward for mouthing.
Move toward floor
Put the item closer to the floor, click and reward for mouthing behavior.
Put item on floor
Put the item on the floor, click and reward your dog when he touches it with his mouth.
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.
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.
Add verbal commands and names, continue to reinforce with a click and treat.
The Name Items Method
Hold an item such as your keys in one hand and a treat in the other hand.
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.
Put item on floor
Put the keys on the floor.
Reinforce touch on floor
Say “keys” and reward your dog for touching the keys,
Reinforce mouth on floor
Wait for him to mouth the keys. Say "pick up keys", then reward him for mouthing the keys.
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.
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.
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