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Ask the Trainer: Teaching the ‘Drop It’ Command

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Dear Kevin,
How do I get my Golden Retriever, Cody, to drop the ball? He wants me to throw it. He loves fetch but can’t get it through his head to drop it. It becomes an annoying game of tug which I’m not fond of. I’ve tried treats. Drops the ball every time, just doesn’t translate to doing it without treats.

Hi Leslie,

It sounds like you are very close to accomplishing this. One thing I have done is told the dog to “drop” one time and just wait until he finally drops it. Once that ball hits the ground I grab it as quickly as possible and throw it. I want him to start to figure out that the quicker he drops it, the quicker he gets it thrown again. It sounds like the game of fetch is actually multiple games all wrapped up into one. He turns it into a game of tug as well. I would not engage in tug whatsoever during this time.

Using rewards for dropping the ball can work too. I see you said you have tried it. One thing that is important is to avoid presenting the food and then telling the dog to drop. This isn’t teaching a cue, this is just bribing the dog. What I would do is say the word “drop” first and then either present the treat or drop little pieces of treats directly on the dog’s head. Either way it is very important that the word is said first. With repetition, Cody will start to anticipate when you say drop with getting a reward, which will cause him to drop it. From there he will start to understand what the word drop means, which will result in fading out the use of food reward and just using the throwing of the ball as the reward.

One other thing to try is after you say, “drop,” if Cody starts to try to play tug, or keep away, just walk away a few steps. Act uninterested. As soon as he drops that ball try to grab it as quickly as possible and reward it by throwing the ball. (It is kind of similar to the first thing I mentioned.)

These are a couple ways to accomplish the end goal. I would pick a way and stay very consistent with it.

Thank you for the question!
Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA

Kevin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT.org)  and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator through the American Kennel Club. He currently resides in Ohio with his dog, V, a six-year-old Shepherd/Lab mix, where he operates All Dogs Go To Kevin, LLC, specializing in helping build positive relationships between humans and their canine companions using clear communication, not pain and fear. For more training tips and tricks, and to meet his amazing dog, V,  follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

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