Playing with our dogs is fun, or it should be, but it’s hard to keep the game going if the dog won’t give up their prize! Whether you’re playing fetch or tug, your dog should know to drop the item when told.
So if your dog brings the toy back or plays tug happily but won’t give it up? This one is for you.
There are two main techniques I use to teach a dog to drop a toy on cue. I have my favourite but you can try each and see which works best for you and your dog. As we know, every dog and human is different.
Technique #1 – The Trade
This is the option I would choose if the object in question is a ball. This is because a ball is a bit harder to hold if using technique #2.
When the dog brings the ball back close to you (this is a good option to use if the dog won’t bring it all the way back), present a trade. You can trade for a piece of food or an identical ball. Which one you use, again, depends on the dog. Some dogs like balls better than a treat so in that case, trade for another ball.
Hold the trade item up close enough for the dog to know what you’ve got. Never chase the dog if they are possessing an item they don’t want to give up. Stay still and stand your ground. The first few times you may need to give them the second item before they’ve dropped the first one. But as long as you have something they want, they HAVE to let go of the first item to take it.
After a couple of trades, start adding in your desired cue word right as the dog switches items. While they’re off fetching the second ball, or chewing the treat, pick up the first ball and repeat.
Keep trading until your dog is coming right up to you and dropping the ball on cue.
If it’s a tug toy, food may be easier to use. Hold the treat right on the dog’s nose and say your command to let go, reward with the food and repeat.
Technique #2 – The Hold, aka the death of the tug
This option is my preferred option for teaching a dog to let go on command during a game of tug.
By the way, tug is a healthy game to play, as long as your dog lets go when told.
Dogs like to tug on a toy that is moving – it has life to it.
This technique works when you remove all movement and life from said tug toy. The toy is dead and boring.
Take both ends of the tug toy and hold it firmly against your leg, planting your feet in a firm position with your knees bent and legs slightly apart. This will help you stay firm even if the dog is stronger than you.
Once you’ve planted the toy against your leg stay still and don’t allow the toy to move no matter how hard the dog tries. Say your command once and wait it out.
The idea is that the toy is no longer so exciting because it won’t move. The second the dog gives up on trying to get it and lets go, say, “YES!” and throw the toy again as the dog’s reward. Repeat. Each time, your dog will get quicker at letting go until you get to the point you can say the command without bracing the toy against your leg.
If your dog doesn’t return the tug willingly you need to practice with the dog on a lead or the tug on a line that you can reel in like a fishing line. Remember, what you allow is what you get so adding a leash or line removes the ability of the dog to practice parading around with their prize and playing keep away.