How To Get Your Dog To Let Go Of The Toy

In this week blog we’re going to cover some useful tips on how to teach your dog how to let go of the toy using food.

I can hear lots of people at home saying ‘but my dog definitely likes his favourite toy way more than he does food’, and likely if you offer your dog a bit of dry kibble in replacement for his favourite toy he’s definitely not going to let go so what we’ve got to do is take a little bit of a step back and retrain your dog’s leave.

In this first step you don’t need any toys, all you need is your dog and some high value treats.  

-To begin with, what we need to do is to pair the reward with a new word particularly if you’ve already introduced a leave it word and it’s not working or the dog has formed a negative association around it. We want to take a new word and pair it with food for a positive association. Say your new word, and as you say it, drop a piece of food on the floor so that your dog starts to pair the understanding of the leave word and the food. Once your dog is consistently expecting food when you say your new cue it’s time to move on to the next step.

-In the next step you want to use a boring item for your dog to let go of, you don’t want to use your dog’s favourite toy at this stage so something like a bit of hose pipe is ideal. All you’re going to do is produce the item to your dog in a boring way and as they bite onto it give your leave cue then produce a little bit of food by throwing it on the floor. During this step, it would be ideal to either use a marker word or a clicker which will mark the exact behaviour that we’re rewarding your dog for, so as they let go of the toy you can either click or use your marker word followed by the food 🙂

-Once your dog is consistently letting go of the toy when you produce it in a boring way, it’s time to increase the excitement and the duration of the time in which you play with your dog before you ask them to let go. When you ask your dog to let go you’re still going to produce some high-value food and throw it on the floor. Once your dog is consistently letting go of the boring item and you’ve raised the excitement and the duration of the game, you can then start to alternate between dropping the food on the floor or feeding from hand after your marker word.

-The next step is to increase to a higher value toy, it’s important that you don’t switch to your dog’s favorite toy straight away. We want to take it in smaller stages, so move to something a little bit more exciting than the boring item you used last time but build to their favorite toy incrementally. When you get to this stage it’s important that you choose a way to reinforce your dog that they find most valuable, so whether that’s throwing some food on the floor when you ask for them to let go, trading them for food from hand, or using the toy as a reward once they’ve let go to restart the game.

  • A couple of really important factors to remember when you’re covering these steps is firstly to make sure that you take every step at your dog’s pace and don’t move on to the next step until you’ve got consistency in one area.
  • The second thing to remember is to keep your rewards in for some time, one of the biggest mistakes is that people remove the reward for their dog letting go of the toy far too soon, and they end up taking steps back because the dog isn’t expecting a reward when they let go of their toy so the reinforcement is lost.

Remember you always want your dog to think when they let go of their toy they’re going to get something in return so rather than having something taken away from them it’s actually an opportunity to get another reward.

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