Dogs are superbly investigative creatures who glean valuable information by ‘testing’ objects in their mouths. Most dogs also find great pleasure in chewing. So, it should come as no surprise that many, even the most well mannered, might occasionally get a hold of something to chew that you consider inappropriate or that might be dangerous to them, for example a chicken bone on the street.
Rather than having to fish around inside your dog’s mouth to pull something out, why not just teach your dog to drop items out of their mouth on cue?
Start with a toy that your dog likes, but isn’t madly crazy about. If you start with his favorite you will have a much harder time as the more valuable the dog considers the resource (the item they have gotten a hold of) the more difficult it may be for them to relinquish. It is always best to start teaching at a level where your dog is most likely to succeed and then gradually increase the difficulty of the task or request you are making.
Start by holding a chew toy (preferably one that is not made of fabric). In many cases a food stuffed bone (filled with food that your dog likes, but is not his or her favorite) is best. This way they can’t sink their teeth in it and think it is time for a game of tug!
Allow your dog to chew on the toy while you hold it. Keep your other hand behind your back and hold a piece of food that your dog likes more than the toy and or the food it is stuffed with. After a few moments of allowing your dog to chew on the item, bring your hand from behind your back towards your dog and slightly to the side of the nose (about 3-6 inches away). Odds are they will opt to leave the chew item and go for the more easily accessible (and higher value) food in your hand.
Practice this a few times until you are confident your dog will promptly leave the chew toy when you bring your hand holding the treat close to them. At this point, you can start to add a cue or command word or phrase. Some people choose to say “drop” and others “thank you.” Whatever word or phrase you choose, be sure to ask nicely. You want this to be a pleasant experience for your dog as opposed to a situation which raised cause for concern. There should be no need to reprimand your dog to get them to release items, and doing so may teach them to run and hide when they get a hold of things you don’t want them to have.
Say the word or phrase you have chosen, in my case I say “thank you.” At the same time bring your hand holding the treat out and near your dog’s nose so that he or she is again inclined to leave the chew toy in favor of the reward you are offering.
If you have chosen the food wisely (that is something that your dog considers to be a high value reward, and far better than the first object you are working with) your dog should continue to immediately let go of what is in his mouth. After repeating this a few times your dog should start to let go of the object as he or she hears the word or phrase, even before seeing your hand holding the treat come out from behind your back.
At this point your dog is starting to learn to let go of an object because he associates the word or phrase (such as “drop” or “thank you”) with the likelihood that something better is on it’s way.
Over the course of a few weeks you can gradually build towards saying the word and pausing for a few seconds prior to bringing your hand holding the treat out in front of you where your dog can see it. Then, start practicing by having your dog playing with the toy on his own (without you holding it), when he is a greater distance away and you have to walk towards him to ask him to relinquish it, in different environments, and with higher value (i.e. items he or she likes more) objects, such as a favorite chew toy. This way your dog will learn to generalize a reliable response to your request regardless of where he or she is or what item is in his or her possession.
It takes only a few seconds for one successful practice repetition of this valuable exercise. So, be sure to plan to do so at least 10-20 times a day. For so little effort the payoff is amazing…having a dog who happily complies with your request to drop items!