You never know what your dog might find on a walk and if you like to walk with your dogs off leash, there's always a chance that they'll pick up something that could be harmful to them. To combat this danger, I play a great game with my dogs when we're out and about to ensure that if they do find something they shouldn't eat or swallow, I've rehearsed a positive outcome with them.
Whenever I am out walking with my dogs, I look for opportunities to reward them bringing me objects. I have sporting breed dogs, which means they LOVE to pick up anything they can, usually it's sticks. When they find such treasure, I will call them to me, take the stick, reward them with a high-value piece of food and then.... I give the stick right back to them (assuming I feel it's safe to do so)! It's an absolute win-win situation for the dog and it sets them up for quick relinquishment of potentially dangerous items.
I've had countless items brought to me using this game. Some are safe, while others are things I wouldn't want my dogs ingesting including a Rabies packet from the airdrop campaign in Ontario and several animal carcasses <<shudder>>.
It's an easy game to teach and most dogs catch on VERY quickly since it is highly reinforcing. If you have not already taught your dog an "out" cue, you can learn how to do so here. Once your dog understands "out", you can take the show on the road and start making practical progress.
Use a Leash
Start with your pup on leash or dragging a line so you can control their distance from you. Many dogs will instinctively want to play "keep-away" or try to swallow an item of perceived value. The worst thing you can do is reinforce this by chasing or trying to grab the dog. Remember: Dogs do what's rewarding! I can almost guarantee that at some point, this will come back to haunt you - and that could be a very dangerous prospect. Having a leash on allows you to stop the game before it starts and work on convincing your dog that they should WANT to let you inspect their 'valuable' item. Once they underestand the game reliably, you can get rid of the leash.
Both when you are teaching and when you are playing the game, remember to be pleasant and encouraging with your dog. You want to make sure they are eager to play this game with you. Being harsh or stern will only make your dog seek out other options. You want them to understand that bringing things to you is a GREAT thing.
Once your dog understands the game, you can transition to only rewarding occasionally. You'll still want to ensure that your rewards are high value, but randomize the frequency of feeding them. Dogs are very clever and will quickly figure out that they can bring you item after item after item.... (you get the idea) to trade for treats.
A Note Regarding Possessive Dogs
If you have a dog who has shown signs of possession, you should seek the advice of a qualified dog behaviourist as soon as possible so you can work at building their tolerance safely.
As always, Happy Training!
Hi! I'm Shannon and I joined the McCann team in 1999 while training Quincey, my wonderful and spirited Rottweiler, to have good listening skills. I'm the Director of Online Training and Content for McCann Professional Dog Trainers and I enjoy writing about dogs and dog training for the McCann blog. I currently share my life with 2 Tollers (Reggie & Ned) and I love helping people develop the best possible relationship with their 4-legged family members.