Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Drop it

Drop it has always seemed to be a useful command, and yet, for some reason not one I have ever bothered to teach in a way that would make it a part of our everyday vocabulary. Strange, since I'm not usually so lax about such things. It has actually got me to wondering just how many other truly useful words or word phrases we teach in a causal manner and so never do manage to have them be truly useful for us or the dog.

Anyway, back to drop it. Sanity already knew how to fetch just about anything on command. She knew how to give on command and it just suddenly occurred to me she really needed to learn how to drop stuff as a way of rounding out the entire idea of having a dog move stuff from one place to another for you.

The first way that both using and teaching drop it occurred to me was when it comes to picking up her toys and bones. She is the worst dog I have ever owned when it comes to her toys and bones. She seems to take great pleasure in getting every single toy and bone out of the toy basket and scattering said items all around the house. Walking can be down right dangerous if you don't pay very close attention to where you are stepping. The toys are bad enough, but to step on one of the bones in the middle of the night can be a real killer.

I though that if I started making her pick all the stuff up and put it back in the toy basket at least I wouldn't trip in the middle of the night. And who knows? It just might slow down the spread of trip-ables around the house. Bingo! Darn, if it isn't actually working. I don't have nearly as many bones or toys on the floor all the time.

So, okay it is time to move this drop it command on to other things. The dirty dog food pans seemed like the next place to practice the command. Here's the thing; I hate doing what I think of as mindless repetitions. You know, the discipline drills we all must do when we are learning a new activity that is going to require muscle memory as well as mental agility. Can't learn to play the piano without doing the boring scales drills. Can't become a truly good singer without singing scales for hours on end. Can't become a good dog trainer without drilling for hours and days on how, when and where to put your hands and feet so they make sense to the dog.

And the dog. The dog can't learn to sit without hundreds of drill style repetitions at doing just that one thing. She won't learn to come, to down, to fetch, well you get the picture, unless we make the discipline drills possible. The rebellious little girl that still lives in me whines, "does it have to be so boring?" I notice that all the dogs say the very same thing. Some times it does have to be boring, just not always.

The drop it command is managing to fall into the "just not always" sort of drill work. This brings me back to fetching the dirty dog food pans. That job entails going down a very steep set of stairs, turning the corner and going into the kennel room. It then means going from kennel to kennel looking for a dirty pan. The pan then has to be picked up and carried out of the room, back upstairs, and then to the kitchen where a place rug on the floor marks the spot the pan must be delivered to and where I stand to receive it. All that has already been taught, first as individual pieces and then as a complete "go downstairs and get the pan" job. Why not use it to teach "drop it"? Why not, indeed. And so I am.

The most difficult part so far has been to teach her that taking the pan from the kennel to the bottom of the stairs and putting it down was a good thing rather than a bad thing. She was so sure at first that I was telling her to drop it because she was doing something wrong. When she did drop the pan, it took literally weeks of repetitions to convince her that she could then come to me WITHOUT said pan and be making the correct choice. Finally we got over that hump.

The next step was to have her collect all the pans and leave them at the bottom of the steps. I would then make my way back upstairs and to the kitchen. Once there I started sending her to "go downstairs and fetch the pans". She was happy, since this was what we were supposed to do with the pans. Last week I added the second step. Now its fetch the pan from the kennel and drop it at the bottom of the steps. Once all the pans are at the bottom of the steps, she gets to carry each one of them up the stairs and drop it at the top of the stairs. After she has finished carrying all the pans to the top of the steps I then make my way upstairs and to the kitchen to be ready for her when she brings each pan to the kitchen.

I have this wild idea that I am going to teach her to go downstairs, get the pans and bring them up to the kitchen and put them in the sink. Now that seems like it will be a truly useful thing for her to do.

It has also got me thinking about the way we pick up the trash that blows into the yard every single blasted night. Until or unless you actually live near a highway or sidewalk that is heavily traveled, you will never know just how dirty people in this country are. Shame on all the litterbugs! Meanwhile, it does mean my dogs have yet another useful task most days. I carry the trash bag and they pick up the trash. So now I'm thinking about the advisability of buying a little red wagon I could pull along and just have Sanity pick up the trash and put it in the wagon. We'll see how that idea percolates along as the weather gets warmer.


  1. Anonymous11:45 AM

    I've been working on putting named items (by name) in a shallow bin with one of my dogs. I made an error though by starting with a tennis ball and a bin with only 4 inch tall sides - sometimes it bounces out (from her 25 inch high mouth) of the bin. She is learning to put her mouth closer but I should have started with a less bouncable item!

    Best sucess with your chores and neighborly cleanup drop its. :-)

    Melissa Stagnaro
    Alex, VA

  2. Will be interested in hearing how your teaching names goes. It has never been something that I have been willing to devote much time to, mostly because I keep on coming up with other things I would rather teach.

  3. Anonymous1:03 PM

    Although I certainly have had some guidance I am making my own dog training plans. I erred in choosing a bouncable item to first put in the shallow bin and have made other errors (including a chin touch release signal when now I want to do a sustained chin target "stay", still thinking this one through!). I have heard some (feild, obviously) use the cue "dead" for their dumbell fetches. A recent proofing book I read wanted the article pile be at directed retrieve glove #2 then send the dog to glove 1, scent article 1, glove 3, scent article 2. It gave me pause and made me thing more about naming. [I don't think I will be doing the proofing drill mentioned.]

    I am doing some body part naming too and that is quite interesting.

    I am confident I will have at least a two item, by name, remote out. Beyond that who knows - I'll probably move on to more scent games.

    Happy training!
    Melissa Stagnaro
    Alex, VA