Standing on the beach chucking Elsa's ball for her I notice a gentleman pick up my poop bag and walk towards me. Hmmm????? I called out to him that it was mine and I that I was taking it with me when I left. The trash cans are a long walk but on the way to the car. He got closer and closer and said "yes I know." Then he pointed to one of his dogs; a gorgeous black male Labrador standing in the water. "Look at what he is holding" the man said. I couldn't make it out, "what is it?" I asked him. "Someone else's poop bag," he said in disgust.
He continued to explain his predicament to me "he won't drop it." "This is the second time he's done this, and it's disgusting." I agreed "it is really disgusting." There the dog stood, chest deep in the water mouthing the bag and occasionally putting it in the water to float around before picking it up again. He was hanging onto the tied knot area of the bag which was now filled with water and poop. The bag resembled a water filled balloon so of course I asked "what if it breaks?" "He'll eat it, bag and all" the owner offered. Then I inquired "is it just this that he won't drop or everything?" "Everything," he explained. This Labrador would never drop a thing. The owner said that he had tried everything he could think of to get this dog to drop things, filet, dog treats, balls but nothing worked.
The dog stayed just out of reach of the owner and the man told me he'd tried lassoing the dog as well. You could see the disgusted frustration in the owner; rightly so. This dog was most definitely working it as he trotted off down the beach with his prize. The dog had displayed very neutral behavior, there was no excitement, no running around trying to play keep away, he simply had found a new possession and was not about to give it up. As the man walked away following his poop carrying Labrador he said he was going to continue trying to get the bag away from the dog. I wished him luck and they walked down the beach.
This is the second time in a couple of weeks that I have met a Labrador that WOULD NOT DROP. The first was a yellow female who grabbed hold of my chuck it with me attached and proceeded to drag us into the ocean. I finally handed it over to the sitter who was watching the dogs so that he could get it. He too told me "she won't drop it." "Great, there goes my chuck it" I thought to myself. He had to trick her to get it away and when I finally got it I stuffed it quickly into my jacket. Those Lab jaws are like vice grips, strong and unyielding.
So just how do you get your dog to drop? The secret is training the drop command from the get go. Not when their jaws are completely formed and powerful against human entry; but when they are little, young and impressionable. Too many people teach puppies to grab and hold on by taking everything that they pick up away from them. Sure there are things that we need to take away, dangerous things but we must also give back. If you never give back when you take, then your dog learns to clamp down and retain. Many dog mouths are just too powerful for us to pry open.
It all starts with bribery; holding a very delicious treat you offer it when your puppy has something in their mouth. Optimally you start this when they have one of their toys in their mouth so that you can give it back. You offer your treat and ask them to drop. If they want the treat they will drop the toy; you give them the treat and then give back the toy. The more times that you repeat by taking a toy, treating them for dropping and returning the toy; the less impact those times have when you must keep the object that was in their mouth. Teaching the drop command from the start is especially important for those retrieving type dogs who love to grab everything in sight. Rewarding them for picking up things and bringing them to you instead of chasing them down and taking away.
So many dogs run and swallow which is so dangerous. Elsa started out as one of these, she is an intense retriever so she has drive. She is much like Tilley was in the drive department so I knew to get on it immediately. She still likes to pick up socks (her steal of choice) but just mouths them or will even bring them to me for a treat. A much better option for her safety than swallowing down. Drop must be practiced on a daily basis until you have a fast response. Depending on what item they have in their mouth you may need to up the value of your reward.
The poop carrying Labrador had been programmed to grab and hold on. He had no history of dropping for a reward; unfortunately when this happens there is little or no chance that he is going to spontaneously changes his ways. The trainer in me had wanted to help this man; but given the dogs history, our location and the fact that the object was a bag filled with poop and ocean water, he was on his own. This dog needed training, big time, intense drop training. But it cannot be done when you are in a full on behavior situation, it must be done beforehand.
Drop is one of the most important things to teach a dog; that and leave it. If you can ingrain even a split second of hesitation in a bigtime stealing dog; you might just be able to avoid a very dangerous situation. As I watched them walk down the beach I held tightly to my poop bag. I hadn't thought of a dog grabbing it off the beach; my dogs would never touch a poop filled bag. I won't leave a bag on the beach again, not after witnessing the disgusting turn of events yesterday.