I’ve had a few requests of how to teach your dog to hold something in their mouth. Many of these people are trying to start out too complicated too soon, for example a friend was trying to teach their dog to bring them the remote but didn’t even have a hold it command for something the dog deemed comfortable. And Can you imagine holding cold hard plastic between your teeth? Not the most comfortable, and even worse if you’re already unsure! The same follows for training dummy’s, they aren’t the most comfortable so not all dogs will want to hold them from the off, opt for a softer object. So let’s go over the hold it command.
You Will Need:
- Clicker or Marker Word
- Reward – Treats/toy plus praise – if opting for a toy, keep the reward toy separate from what you want them to hold.
- A toy your dog plays with on a regular basis and you have seen him holding in his mouth by choice. Nothing too over-stimulating though as this will cause too much distraction!
Step 1: Kneel/Stand in front of your dog with your clicker and what you want them to hold.
Step 2: Hold the object in front of your dog, close to, but not touching their muzzle. Click and reward when they touch the object with their nose or mouth. If it’s only a nose at firs still reward that, don’t ask for too much too soon, however bonus(!) if they’re already offering to put their mouth around it.
Step 3: When your dog is touching the object every time you want to move onto opening their mouth on the object. Some will do this naturally, so when they do, click and reward, but others need more encouragement – Aurora definitely did! How I encouraged her to touch the object with her teeth was by using a treat and holding it on the object with one thumb, whenever her teeth so much as brushed the object when getting the treat I would click and reward. It took some time but eventually she began to understand.
Step 4: Now when you present the object you want to wait until they grasp it before you click and reward. Even if they only grasp it for a millisecond you will want to reward. Make sure you are still supporting the object at this point, do not expect them to take the weight.
Step 5: Put in your command, repeat step 4 but start adding in the command as you present the object to your dog. Remember to only say the command once, try not to repeat the command! I use “hold it” for both Luna and Aurora.
Step 6: Begin to increase the time before you reward, very gradually increase the time of them holding the object in their mouth with you still supporting it before clicking and rewarding. Keep it at a few repetitions each time you increase the time, move up to half a second, repeat 3+ times , then a second, repeat 3+ times, then 2 seconds, repeat 3+ times, then 3, repeat 3+ times, so on and so forth. If at any point they start dropping sooner, move back to a duration they were comfortable, and repeat for longer in that duration before trying to move up again.
Step 7: Once they are comfortably holding the object with your support for at least 5 seconds you can now ask them to start to take some of the weight of the object. Ask them to “hold it” and begin to slowly take your hands away from the object slightly, dropping the duration back to half a second. Click and reward as usual, if after a few tries they keep dropping go back to the previous step and stay there for longer before trying to move on again.
Step 8: Completely remove your support from the object, click and reward after one second and repeat several times.
Step 9: Begin to increase duration. As always be sure to increase the duration very gradually, Even more so if they have been unsure of any of the recent steps!
If you want to move onto harder objects to hold, move back as many steps as necessary with the new object. Some dogs will apply it to other items with ease, while others will find it harder, so just break it down again for them, potentially going right back to step 1!
So that’s how I taught Aurora to hold it. I was extremely lucky with Luna because she just held items naturally, I had to use some of these steps to ask her to hold things that she found less comfortable though, and food took a seriously long time to teach! But with patience you will get there! As always this is just the method I’ve used for my dogs, there are so many different ways that people teach tricks. No one knows your dog better than you, it’s just a case of seeing the end result and working out what steps it needs to be broken down into for it to work for them.
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