To Have & To Hold
Let that go! Leave it! Drop it! So much pressure!
A puppy explores the world with his mouth. It is a built-in behavior. Show downs and tug-of-war matches will only serve to break down trust, create resource guarding and frustrate you and the puppy.
There is a better way. How you respond matters. First, understand that this is not a case of ‘stopping’ a natural inclination. It is a case of setting the pup up for success as well as redirecting and teaching alternative behaviors.
Four Things You CAN Do
1. Manage The Environment
- Pick up ‘off-limit’ items. Scan the area (inside and out) ahead of time and do you best to pick up or put away anything you don’t want the puppy getting in his mouth.
- Supervise the puppy. Use a leash or a gate to help keep the puppy in a ‘safe zone’.
- Provide a rotating assortment of appropriate chews, work-to-eat toys and other toys that the puppy finds reinforcing. Be sure to provide toys that provide the puppy the opportunity to forage and explore, as well as to gnaw and chew. Rotating is key, this way food and toys are more interesting and effective, novelty is important.
2. Build A Reinforcement History
Practice multiple repetitions of specific exercises that will greatly increase the odds of the puppy letting go of things when you ask.
- Teach Chirag Patel’s Drop Game. Within the first few days of bringing home your puppy start to play this game. It is simple and effective. First the puppy hears the word drop, followed by a small handful of delicious food appearing on the ground. Next you tap your finger beside the food. Keeping your hand by the food as the puppy eats is important. As is the order of the instructions. First say ‘Drop’, next the food appears. Watch the full video to evolve this great game.
- If the object your pup grabs is not dangerous you have a few options. You can trade, or, you can play a game with the item. For example if your puppy picks up your shoe, you can pick up the other one. If you start tossing it in the air and skipping around with it or tapping and wiggling it on the ground, chances are your puppy will drop the one he has and come to see about all the fun you are having. Moral of this story, get creative with how you respond to your puppy picking things up. Try and always be mindful of how you respond.
- If the puppy picks up something that is not dangerous but is icky or he may destroy it, trade him. Thoughtfully trade him for something he likes more.
Some ‘off limit’ items are dangerous. If your puppy picks up something that can be harmful if ingested you must act with purpose. Swiftly and accurately extract the object from his mouth. Avoid discussion.
3. Use The Right Reinforcement
In order for you to be effective with your efforts you must use food and toys that your puppy is more than interested in, you want him to love it! You need to make it worth his while to drop things he finds and takes a shining to insert [whatever you are trying to take from him].
Some examples of worthwhile reinforcement; tiny pieces of chicken, cheese, hot dog, steak, high value dog treats (usually a single protein) like lamb lung, chicken hearts or raw freeze dried food. Canned dog food or cooked ground beef or chicken is great to work with too. Give your dog a raise!
4. Proof Your Work
Your work is not complete until you proof it.
Set up practice situations where you plant safe, enticing distractions such as a brown paper bag, toast, paper towel, a wash cloth or a bit of wood. Get creative with it. You will walk your puppy along this trail with a leash on being careful to not let him reach the item.
- From a workable distance reinforce the pup for simply looking away. Use a kissing sound to prompt the behavior of looking towards you. Mark and reinforce it with something spectacular.
- Next practice walking past continuing to prevent him from reaching the item and continuing to reinforce for looking away – you can prompt again with a kissing noise but if you practice multiple repetitions the pup will start to look away on his own since he will have been HEAVILY reinforced for doing so in the past!
- TIP – Use really high value food for this!
- You will gradually decrease the distance between the puppy and the planted distraction.
- Next practice – ‘recall‘ away from planted items or using your refined ‘drop’ cue.
- For the recall sound upbeat and fun as you call ‘Come!’
- Always build on success versus the request being too hard! Baby steps!
It is not about stopping your puppy from doing a behavior he was made to do. It’s about your understanding along with best practice from day one. This way, grabbing, guarding and gobbling up off-limit items will never be a challenge for you to overcome. Keep it well oiled by continuing to practice and refine.
Happy Puppy Raising!