I live with a one year-old Labrador Retriever and two children. If you have even a passing familiarity with this particular combination, you will not be surprised to know that the cue that is used far and away most often in my home is “Drop It.”
The list is as follows: a pink flip flop, a dead bird, a Japanese eraser (twice), a plastic toy car, an empty toilet paper roll, a chip clip, a plastic toy spaghetti, a pencil, a baseball cap and a stuffed animal. Obviously, in our house, being able safely retrieve things from the dog’s mouth is crucial.
Teaching a dog that “drop it” is a fun game can avoid a myriad of problems. In the dog world, possession is ten-tenths of the law. Among dogs, if you have something in your mouth, it’s yours. If you put it down, well then it’s open to dispute, but if you have it in your mouth, it would be the height of doggy rudeness for another dog to try to take it. So imagine what our dogs think of us when we come over and pry their jaws open and forcibly remove their treasures from their mouths. In fact, some dogs decide that they need to let us know just how rude we are being by growling or snapping. Other dogs will tire of our intrusions or be wary of our scolding and angry body language and hide so that they can chew the shoe they found in peace. Still others find the chase game that ensues when mom or dad sees them with a sock to be irresistible fun. These dogs will grab items and parade them past in the hopes that it will be game on!
So, no matter how exasperated I am that my dog has picked up yet another item, I take a deep breath and summon my happy voice to ask him, “What’s that? Can I see it? Can you drop it?” Then, in his happy, goofy, adolescent lab way, he will spit it right out so that he can eat the treat that follows. I pick up the thing he had in his mouth while he’s munching on whatever I happened to have on hand (I have treats stashed all over my house for just this purpose!). If it’s something that’s not dangerous to him and can tolerate a little more dog slobber on it, I will give the item back to him and have him drop it again.
We also make sure to practice when he has picked up something that he’s allowed to have, like a chew toy, because I want to make sure that he doesn’t think that the fun drop it game only happens with shoes and kids’ toys, and nothing fun happens when he picks up his own toys. So when I spot him with one of his toys, I ask him to drop it. When he does, he gets a treat while I pick up the toy. As soon as he’s done eating, I give it right back to him. In his mind, there’s no downside to dropping and therefore no growling, hiding or keep away required!