How To Teach Drop It / Take It (Resource Guarding)
Nothing is worse than when your dog grabs something they shouldn’t have (or you can’t even tell what it is) and runs with it.
What usually happens here? You run chasing after your dog yelling “Stop!” “Drop it!” “Give it to me!”
A couple of things could happen here …
> Your dog could keep running, chew it up and swallow it, whatever it is
> Your dog could stop running from you but refuse to let go, while you try to yank it out of his mouth
> Your dog could drop it and keep running
> Your dog could keep running, not letting go, you try to take it and get bitten due to resource guarding
> Your dog could stop and drop it (possibly while you offer a trade)
Ideally, we don’t ever want to get to a situation where your dog grabs something they shouldn’t have for a couple of reasons…
> We don’t want our dog to ingest something potentially toxic or dangerous
> We don’t want resource guarding behaviors to get out of hand to where anyone could get hurt
So, what is the solution?
Teach a “Drop It / Leave It / Take It” cue from early on and get your dog comfortable with you being around, even touching while they eat, play, etc.
All of the items your dog may develop a guarding situation over, food, toys, a playmate, you as their caregiver, we want them to feel comfortable and confident that this resource will always be available to them and they don’t have to defend it for themselves.
Being confrontational, yanking an object from your dog’s mouth, yelling, threatening body language, are all going to make any guarding situation worse. Whether it be over food, toys, a favorite bed, or a favorite person, just don’t do it!
It’s always best to start early on, but if you’re already having resource guarding issues, it’s not too late!
If you’re starting with a new puppy, make yourself present with food and treats. Give your puppy a high-value treat, maybe a raw meaty bone, hold on to one end while you let them knaw on the other. This will help your pup understand that you are not a threat to their food.
If your dog is older, maybe recently adopted or you’ve had them for a while but are just starting out with training, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest starting out with a food objective, especially if you’ve already noticed some resource guarding behaviors.
Either way, begin to train a “Take It and then Drop It” cue with your dog.
Step 1 – Teaching your dog how to trade
Present your dog a toy of low value (for instance, if your dog loves balls, choose a squeaky toy. If your dog loves squeaky toys, choose a rope toy, etc.)
When your dog opens their mouth to accept your offering, say “Take It”
Let your dog play with the toy (and you can partake in the play too!) … before he gets bored with it, pull a duplicate of the toy from behind your back.
When your dog drops the toy he has, say “Drop It” and reward him by giving her the duplicate toy you have in your other hand – and give lots of praise!
When your dog takes the trade toy, say “Take It”
Practice this LOTS! and as your dog gets good at this we can move on to the next step.
Step 2 – Increase the Value
As your dogs’ consistency increases, you can begin to increase the value of the object you train with.
Find higher value toys than what you started out with and work your way up to their favorite toys.
If at any point your dog does not want to drop a toy, walk away for a moment and come back with a higher value toy. But don’t give it yet, play with it a bit and show your dog how interesting this new toy is to you – so it will be to them too!
They will be way too curious about what you have and will willingly give up the old toy for the new one.
Remember to use your cue words! “Take It” for when they take a toy from you and “Drop It” for when they drop a toy or give it to you.
And give lots and lots of praise when they get it right!
Once your dog is doing this with consistency, you can begin to ask for “Drop It” in other contexts … but remember we are offering a trade. You can also use food rewards for items your dog deems to be of higher value, but the more we can stick with toys the better!
PRO TIP – Always end each training session on a POSITIVE note! Remember, if you’re frustrated, your dog has long been frustrated. Take a breath, ask for something easy for them to do, such as a sit, reward and praise!
If you’ve not had much time to train and you find yourself in a sticky situation of cat and mouse – chasing your dog around because they’ve grabbed something … go for the gold with a super high-value trade offer. Don’t run, yell or threaten … calmly grab something of very high value to your dog (yummy chicken, maybe some steak, check what’s in your fridge and if you have something already heated, great, it’ll have a stronger smell)
Sit close to where your dog is, pull apart the yummy treat, talk to your dog like you’ve got the best snack in the world – maybe even take a bite – when your dog comes to you, trade for what they’ve got…. and get to training!