Saturday, February 6, 2010

Drop It Daisy!

When I first took Daisy on as a foster, I wanted to focus on building trust and training her in the basic commands, so she could go to a nice home with a nice family. However, it soon became clear that the basic commands would have to wait until I could build trust with her and get her to look me in the eye. A very scary prospect for my girl.

During the first few days she spent with me, I just allowed Daisy "to be". I wanted her to become used to her new surroundings first; to get used to all the sights, sounds and smells that surrounded her in her new home. I did not expose her to any new experiences (besides the house and the yard). We did not go to the dog park right away. We did not take a jaunt to Petsmart. We didn't even go for walks because Daisy was so afraid of me touching her collar.

(As a side note: I don't think any new dog owner should bring their dog to a pet store or dog park right away. They don't even know who you are yet. Can you imagine how scary and overwhelming it must be to ride in a car with a stranger and go someplace equally overwhelming?)

Instead, I gave Daisy some space and time. I needed her to feel comfortable before I could focus on anything else. Once she felt more comfortable, we began with one of the most basic commands... "watch me".

I thought starting with "watch me" would be easier for Daisy because she had already seen me and my dog, Aspen, demonstrating the behavior for her. She had been paying very close attention to the treats Aspen got each time she performed the behavior for me (food is a true motivator Daisy!). I also figured that if I could get her to make eye contact with me it would be much easier to work with her on the other commands, like sit, down, come and drop it. And, it turned out that I was right. Once Daisy learned "watch me" from Aspen, she quickly learned "sit" and "down" and "come" by watching Aspen respond to the commands.

The one command I waited to implement was "drop it" - at least until recently.

I had tried this command before, back when I was teaching Daisy to "sit" and "come", but every time I tried to work with her on this command she always reacted as if I was scolding her or that I was upset with her (and this was with me using a happy and positive voice). I'm sure any trainer would probably say I was doing it wrong, and likely, I WAS doing it wrong! Either way, the result was that Daisy would often regress with her other commands as well. So, I decided to back off this command until Daisy felt safer with me and began to understand that I wasn't upset with her.

Recently, we revisited this command and this time with great success!

Daisy has a habit (as a typical Lab) of grabbing a toy, her dish or whatever is within reach and carrying it around in her mouth when she is excited or nervous. Every day when I come home, she is carrying something around in her mouth (it's really cute when she carries her "woobie" around with her - a stuffed toy). Often, when I let her out to go potty, she takes a toy with her and almost always leaves it in the yard. After numerous times of finding toys out in the yard and spending a lot of time picking them up, I decided it was time to learn "drop it".

We started with me approaching her and giving her a treat in exchange for the toy. As I said, Daisy loves treats! This worked pretty well. Daisy would often drop the toy before I even got close enough to exchange the treat for her toy. As she got used to dropping the toy, I introduced the word "drop it" and when she did so, I gave her a treat. Eventually, we were able to abandon the treat altogether. Now I say drop it and Daisy automatically drops it and we head outside.

It's such a wonderful thing to see my girl able to "drop it" on command! It may take more time for Daisy and I to figure things out (together), but I think that's what makes her successes all the richer. Go Daisy Go!


  1. Love the blog! It's really reassuring to hear stories of progress like this. I'm in the beginning or middle stages of the dog training process and trying to learn as much as I can.

    I have finally gotten Didy (my abused rescue) to the point where he will do almost anything for me, and let me do things to him that he finds uncomfortable, like baths or haircuts. However, he continues to be pretty much unresponsive to anyone else who asks for even something minimal.

    It really is all about the give and take, and the listening and the learning. Knowing which issues you can try and push your dog on and which ones are really hard for them is essential to the process.

  2. Holly - Thanks for your comment! I know exactly what you mean about the give and take and knowing what you can push or not push with your rescue dog Didy.

    I have learned more problem-solving skills than I ever imagined when I adopted Daisy. She has come a long way, but continues to grow and gain confidence. Hopefully Didy will as well!

    I would check out It's a great resource for working with dogs like ours and Deb has been a great help to me.