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Have you ever gone to the park and watched as owners played fetch with their well-trained Retrievers? The dog chases after the ball, brings the ball back, and then nicely places it into his owner's hand or right by her feet. Have you ever tried to play fetch with your own dog and experienced quite a different scenario? Your dog enthusiastically races after the ball, and due to his nature as a Retriever, he even brings the ball back. But when you try to get the ball from your dog, to throw it again, your dog does everything but give it to you. He races away from you, clenches down on the ball firmly, drops the ball but then immediately snatches it up again before you can grab it, all the while seeming to laugh at you with a big goofy grin, half covered by the ball in his mouth. It can be funny to watch such antics at first but after a while, you start to feel frustrated and to think that it would just be nice to play a normal game of fetch with a dog, that as a Retriever, is known for being able to retrieve and deliver to hand.
The good news is, with a little work, your goofy Golden can learn how to drop his ball too. In the process, he will even learn how to drop other items as well. Which is extremely useful for a dog that was bred to want things in his mouth, and who fills that urge by picking up sticks, socks, toys, leaves, shoes, and anything else that he can find, especially while he is young.
Not only is 'drop' useful when you are trying to play fetch with your dog, but it is also a command that could one day save your dog's life. Dogs tend to pick up things in their mouths, and Golden Retrievers especially tend to do this, but not everything that your dog picks up is safe for him to hold or to eat. If you have ever watched a dog snatch up a cooked chicken bone from the ground, and drop it to the floor when the quick owner told the dog to 'drop' it before he could it eat, then you understand. Cooked chicken bones, while delicious and tempting, will splinter easily if ingested by a dog, and such sharp pieces can cause punctures in your dog's stomach or intestines, leading to a very dangerous situation. Perhaps you will never need the command for such an important reason, but you might need it to stop something truly disgusting, such as eating cat poop or picking up a dead animal.
'Drop' is a fairly easy command to teach to most dogs. On average, it will take between one and four weeks to teach. Some dogs really struggle to relinquish the items in their mouths though. If this is your dog, then expect it to take your dog four weeks or longer to truly learn this. If your dog's temperament is more laid back and compliant, then the process will probably be rather quick once your dog understands that dropping something means that he will get something else instead.
If your dog has ever shown any form of aggression, if you have any reason to believe that your dog would act aggressively, or if your dog is not comfortable being touched, then do not choose the 'Pressure' method or the 'Trading' method. Both of these methods require you to place your hand on or by your dog's mouth, which can be dangerous if you believe that your dog might bite. The 'Pressure' method" is the most confrontational of all of the methods and the 'Treat' method is the least confrontational.
It is important even after your dog learns 'drop' for you to keep the act of taking things from your dog very positive. You can do this by trading with your dog; swap an acceptable item in place of the dropped one. This is important because if your dog begins to believe that giving you items means that the item will always be taken away, then your dog can become possessive of objects and will refuse to give you things even when he knows the command. Giving you items is an act of trust on the part of your dog, so as his owner you will need to work to maintain your dog's trust. If you must put the ball away at the end of the game, then simply reward your dog for handing you the ball by giving him a chew toy to play with instead, or by giving him a treat to thank him for complying.
To get started, if you are using the 'Treat' method then you will need lots of small, tasty treats, that are easy for your dog to eat. You will also need a toy that your dog likes less than your treats. If you are using the 'Trading' method, you will need two balls that your dog likes equally well. If you are using the 'Pressure' method then you will need five toys that your dog likes to varying degrees. The first toy should be something that your dog absolutely loves. The second toy should be something that your dog loves, but less than the first toy. The third toy should be something that your dog likes, but less well than the first and the second toys. The fourth should be something that your dog likes moderately, but less than the first, second, and third toys. Finally, the fifth toy should be the toy that your dog likes the least of all, but still likes well enough that he will take it from your hand if you offer it to him. For the 'Pressure' method, you will need good muscle strength in your hand and a bit of stubbornness and perseverance to wait for your dog to give up and drop the toy.
With all of the methods, you will need patience, persistence, and a positive attitude, especially when your dog finally drops a toy and needs to be rewarded even if it took him a long time to let go. You will also need to be able to be boring while you are waiting on your dog to let go of a toy, so that your dog will not think that you are playing a game, and so that your dog will not try to initiate a game of tug of war with the object.
The Treat Method
Play with your dog
To begin, hide several treats in your pocket or somewhere else close by. Do not let your dog see you doing this. Get your dog interested in a toy by playing with him. When your dog grabs the toy in his mouth, place one hand under his chin to catch the toy, and then tell your dog to "drop" while touching a treat to his nose.
Keep the treat touching your dog's nose and your hand underneath his chin until your dog drops the toy into your hand, in order to get the treat. While you are doing this, also stop any playing and become very boring so that your dog will be more willing to relinquish the toy. At first it may take your dog several minutes to drop the toy, this is OK. Simply be patient. He will learn through practice that dropping the toy does not mean that the toy is gone forever.
When your dog drops the toy, immediately praise him and give him the treat to eat. While he is eating the treat, hide the toy behind your back so that he becomes comfortable with the toy leaving his sight. After he has finished eating the treat and he is looking at you, tell him "OK", and toss the toy to him and resume playing with him.
Repeat having him 'drop' the toy into your hand by touching a treat to his nose, until he will drop the toy as soon as he sees the treat coming towards him.
Phase out the lure
When your Golden Retriever begins to drop his toy as soon as he sees the treat, then space your command and the treat out, in order to phase out the treat lure. To do this, place your hand under his chin and command him to "drop", then wait seven seconds before showing him the treat or touching it to his nose. Repeat this process until he drops the toy before he sees the treat. The first time that he does this, praise him enthusiastically and offer him five treats, one at a time. Practice this until he is consistently dropping the toy without seeing a treat.
When your dog will consistently drop the toy without seeing a treat, then begin to reward him with a treat less frequently. Have him drop a toy several times in a row, and randomly reward him with a treat some of the times, and other times simply praise him enthusiastically and then immediately toss him his toy or toss him another toy, and let play be his reward. Always become boring and stop your play whenever you have commanded 'drop', so that your dog learns that the way to get you to continue to play is for him to release his toy.
Any time that you wish to end a game of play with your dog or to take something away from your dog that he should not have, you can keep his experience positive and maintain his trust by trading him something acceptable for the item in his mouth. For example, if you need to take away a bone from your dog, tell him "Drop", and then offer him five treats, one at a time, while you hide the bone. Or if you need to take your dog's ball away, tell him "drop" and offer him a stuffed Kong that he can chew on instead.
The Trading Method
Toss a ball
To begin, toss a ball for your Golden Retriever to fetch. When your dog brings the toy back to you, then grasp onto the ball in your dogs mouth, tell your dog "drop", and show your dog a second ball in your other hand.
If your dog immediately releases the ball in his mouth when he sees the second one in your other hand, then praise your dog and immediately toss the second ball.
Tempt your dog
If your dog does not release the ball in his mouth when he sees the second ball, then, while you continue to grasp onto the ball in your dog's mouth, tempt your dog with the second ball. To temp him, toss the ball slightly into the air, roll it around in your hand, and wiggle it in front of his face. Continue to hold onto the ball in your dog's mouth and tempt your dog with the second ball until he lets go of the ball. Eventually your dog will get tired of holding onto the first ball and will let go. This could take up to thirty minutes the first time that you do this though. Be patient. This time should get shorter as you practice and your dog realizes that he will receive the second ball for releasing the first.
Repeat this process until your dog will immediately release the ball in his mouth as soon as your tell him "drop" and you show him the ball in your other hand. When your dog gets to this point, then start to place your hand under your dog's chin rather than on the ball in your dog's mouth. Tell your dog "drop" and show your dog the other ball. If your dog drops it into your hand then immediately continue the game by throwing the other ball. If your dog does not drop the ball, then continue to hold your hand under his chin for fifteen seconds while you show him the ball in your other hand. If he releases it, praise him and toss the other ball. If he does not release it, then give him a hint by grasping onto the ball in his mouth like before. Practice waiting fifteen seconds before grasping onto the ball in his mouth every time. Do this until he begins to drop the ball into your hand before you have grasped onto it.
Phase out the second ball
When your dog will quickly release the ball into your open hand under his chin every time, then begin to phase out the second ball. To phase out the second ball, when your dog returns to you, place your hand under his chin and tell him "drop", but wait ten seconds before showing him the ball in your other hand. Repeat this until he will drop the first ball into your hand before you show him the second ball in your other hand. When he gets to this point, then when he drops the first ball into your hand, pass that ball behind your back into your empty hand and throw it with that hand. Do this until your dog will release the first ball when told "drop" every time.
When your dog is down to one ball and is releasing the ball quickly when told to 'drop' , then you can begin to throw the remaining ball normally, without passing it into your other hand.
The Pressure Method
Show the toy
To begin, find five toys. One that your dog absolutely loves, one that he loves a little less, one he loves less than that, one that he only moderately likes, and one that he barely cares for but will still take from your open hand. Rate these toys from one to five, with five being the toy that he absolutely loves, and one being the toy that he barely cares for. Show your dog the toy that you ranked as one, the toy that he likes the least, and tell him "take it", then allow him to take the toy from your hand while you praise him.
After your dog has taken the toy, then tell him "drop",and cup your hand around your dog's mouth and apply pressure with your fingers to the area at the back of your dog's mouth, where his upper and lower jaws meet. Only do this if your dog has never shown any form of aggression and is comfortable with being touched.
Keep pressure on that area until your dog opens his mouth and drops the toy. You are not trying to force his mouth open, but simply trying to make it uncomfortable for him to close it, so that he will choose to open it himself. It may take your dog several minutes to open his mouth the first time.
When your dog opens his mouth to drop the toy, immediately cover the toy with your foot to keep him from grabbing it again, while also quickly removing your hand from his mouth. Praise him enthusiastically and immediately toss him the toy number two toy. The toy that he likes a little bit better.
Repeat this process, trading your dog for the toy that is ranked one higher than the toy that your dog has just dropped, every time that your dog relinquishes the current toy. When you reach the fifth toy, the one that your dog absolutely loves, then trade your dog his favorite treats for that toy. After he has finished eating the treats, either end that session or start over with the number one toy again. Repeat this process this until your dog will drop his toy when told before you have touched his mouth or applied pressure.
After your dog has learned 'drop, maintain your dog's trust by trading him something acceptable for the item in his mouth whenever you need to take something from him. For example, if your dog has your sock in his mouth, then command him to 'drop' and when he drops it, give him a stuffed Kong or his bone instead. Whenever you end a game of fetch with your Golden Retriever, you can also maintain his trust at the end of the game, when you must take the ball away, by offering him treats or a favorite chew toy for him to focus on, while you place the ball somewhere out of his sight.
By Caitlin Crittenden
Published: 02/05/2018, edited: 01/08/2021