Training "Drop It" with Treats
A big advantage of all our flavors being newly available in strips is that they're easier than ever to cut or tear into bite-sized training treats! To celebrate, we'll be letting you know how you can use your Love the Dog treats in training to get the behaviors - and relationship - with your dog that you both want. Today we'll look at the "Drop It" behavior, trained with positive reinforcement using treats.
Why use treats?
Positive reinforcement training takes the most advantage of treats, food, and other rewards to influence dogs' behavior. "High-value" treats like ours, with their heavy meat content and tempting scents, paired with positive training makes a powerful and effective combination. Why? If you've read our past blogs, you're already familiar with the next three paragraphs below, but it never hurts to review... (or you can skip ahead!)
Just like humans, dogs learn in two ways:
(1) as a consequence of their behavior, or operant conditioning
(2) by association, or classical conditioning
Operant conditioning is used to train behaviors, such as sit. Dogs learn that performing certain behaviors pays off because we reinforce them with treats, and so they're much more likely to do them again when asked! We can use the treats not only to motivate or reinforce the dogs to perform behaviors, but also to teach them the behaviors themselves. Using a method called luring, we can use great-smelling treats to lure dogs into positions like sit, down, stand, heel, roll over, sit pretty, and many more! Once the dog performs the correct behavior, we reward with the treat.
Classical conditioning is used to train emotions, which, of course, strongly contribute to behavior. If something that a dog is uncomfortable with is consistently paired with something the dog loves, a positive association will develop. For example, if a puppy meets children when he is young and always receives treats, he is much more likely to be happy and optimistic when he meets children as an adult. This is very useful when we consider that we can use food to change how dogs feel, thereby helping dogs exhibiting fear- or frustration-based behaviors.
Both operant and classical conditioning are ongoing at all times in the brain, and this is why it is ideal to grab a bag of treats when you train: a dog who learns via punishment techniques may learn new behaviors, but we risk them developing negative associations with the people, places, and situations involved. In contrast, dogs trained positively not only learn new behaviors, but feel great about what was trained, how it was trained, and who trained them.
This is particularly the case for "drop it": training "drop it" using pain- or force-based methods can inadvertently result in a dog who guards items that are valuable to them, is distressed they are in conflict with their owners over resources, and may exhibit behaviors like running away with items or even growling and worse.
Training "Drop It" with treats
Here's how to use treats to train your dog to "drop it" (you can alternatively use the cues "give," "out," "thank you," or "off" - just be consistent):
Hide treats in your pocket / treat pouch behind your back / nearby on a high table.
Engage your dog in play with a toy.
When your dog is carrying the toy or has a hold of it in their mouth, say “drop it”, and immediately following the verbal cue, reach for a treat and move it right in front of your dog's nose (touch the nose if needed). The treat is actually a lure to make them open their mouth. (Wait -- don't we have to wait until our dog knows a behavior well to add a verbal cue? Yes! We still do. If you're 100% sure your dog will open their mouth for the treat, you can already add the cue "drop it" because it will be preceding the exact behavior you want every time.)
As soon as your dog releases the item they are holding, say “yes” (or click with a clicker), and reward with the treat.
Eventually, you dog will open their mouth when you say “drop it” even BEFORE you present the treat, and you can make the reward contingent upon this good behavior from then on. Say drop it and wait for your dog to release the toy. When they do, say yes or click, and only THEN present the treat. If you're struggling, just repeat steps 2-4 a bit longer until your dog develops a stronger association between the cue and the behavior.
TIP: Especially in the beginning, always reward your dog with something they like more than what you are taking away to get a strong behavior and build trust. (In fact, there is never any need to permanently take anything away from a dog when you play this game as a training exercise. Reserve that for when you find him chewing something truly dangerous and, in those cases when you will not give the item back, be sure to reward adequately so he never feels the need to start guarding items.)
TIP: Practice drop it as frequently as possible and reinforce it often, not just when you really need it. If you only practice drop it when you are taking a novel, high-value item away (like a discarded chicken wing bone on the street), your dog may learn "drop it means I have something really good and the human wants to take it away--- that's my cue to guard my treasure!"