Give Me That! How to teach your dog to let go.

One of the behaviors that most puppies learn is to protect objects of value from their littermates.  When a puppy has a new toy or chew bone, he will either get up to keep the object away from the other puppies (keep away) or give a warning growl when another puppy comes close.  If the other puppy doesn’t back off then a growl, snap or bite will occur.  This explains why, when a new puppy comes into your home it is important to teach him how to let go of objects when we ask him.  This is also true if you bring an older dog into your home.  He might already have a strong possession instinct, and he will naturally growl or snap to protect his possession.

To prevent this possessiveness it is important to practice teaching the dog to relinquish objects whether they are his or yours.  You need to do this every day for the first month your new dog is living with you.  By teaching him to “drop it” you will help to prevent unwanted games of keep away and tug of war. Teaching children how to get the dog to drop objects will also train self control and keep children from chasing him around.  You will then have a dog that will not run from you or hang onto things that do not belong to him.

If you’re not sure how your dog will react if you take something from him, start by just walking up to him when he is chewing on something and drop a tasty treat near him.  Be cautious by stopping a safe distance and tossing the treat gently towards him.  You should do this a minimum of two weeks and at least fifty times.  This is an excellent exercise for children and visitors to practice, because it teaches the dog they are not a threat when they approach.  When you feel the dog is progressing well then you can begin to actually teach him to give up objects.

  • Hold an object like a toy in your hand.
  • In the other hand hold a treat behind your back so that the dog doesn’t smell it.
  • Let the dog chew on what you’re holding.
  • To teach him the “drop it” command you then place the treat near his nose so he can  smell it.  He will stop chewing what you are holding and go towards the treat.
  • When he lets go say a word (such as drop, give it to me, let go) and then give him the treat.  This is also a way to teach the dog to let go when you play tug of war with his toy.  Remember rules of tug of war: the dog always has to give up the toy to you.  He never wins.  (But of course, he does win because he gets to play with you more often!)

Here is another exercise to practice.

  • While the dog is chewing on a toy, approach him without saying anything and reach towards him with a treat in your hand.
  • Put the treat near his nose so he smells it.
  • As the dog lets go of the toy, say your command (drop, give it to me, let go) and give the dog the treat.
  • When the dog takes the treat pick up the toy.
  • Then return the toy to him.

This teaches the dog that when you approach and reach towards him, good things happen (the treat) and by giving him back his toy he learns you’re not going to take everything away from him.

Prevention training is important when you own a dog.  Even if you can take things from your puppy or new adult dog now does not necessarily mean you will be able to six months later.  Dogs, like kids, require constant reminders of what their limits are.  Your efforts will be rewarded with a safe adult dog in your family.