Dogs want food treats so much that they will generally do whatever it takes to get us to hand them over. Different dogs learn different strategies to accomplish this same goal. Some dogs learn to sit, other dogs figure out that making their cutest wide-eyed face works best and there are dogs who have been taught that begging at the table is effective.
One dog named Holly learned that the best way to get treats is to pay for them. As a puppy, she loved to take things from bags or purses in the house, and that included dollar bills. Rather than chase her around or try to wrestle her new treasures away from her, her guardians wisely opted to make trades. Holly would surrender the money to receive a treat. It wasn’t hard for her to figure out that if she had money, she could use it to “buy” treats. In dog training parlance, she had been reinforced (with treats) for having money in her mouth and letting her guardians take it away, so she began to do it more often.
In fact, she learned to search for money so that she could trade it for treats. Her guardians can tell her to go get a dollar if she wants a treat, and Holly will go find one. This family finds it amusing and allows her to have a stash of cash that she can use to “buy” treats. When she runs out, they replenish her supply. (She will often bring a dollar without being asked and put it on one of their laps to let them know she wants to exchange it for a treat.)
When it comes to getting treats, dogs do what works for them. As trainers and guardians, we can use that to our advantage by making a behavior that we like be one that works for them. So, if you want your dog to drop things, make that a strategy that will result in treats for them.
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It is possible for this to go awry if what your dog learns to drop for treats is something you don’t want him to have in the first place such as your phone or your glasses case. It’s more fun (and less irksome) if you can teach your dog to drop things you want him to bring to you, such as the newspaper or your slippers. If there is something your dog is always taking that you would prefer not be in his mouth, make it inaccessible while you encourage him to take something else instead. Once he has established a new habit of bringing you the “right” objects, he will be more likely to leave those other things alone.
Has your dog learned that certain objects can be traded for treats?