top of page

Teach a Willing Trade

Dogs use objects to invite play. 

A dog's favorite game is chase.  They parade by dangling an item to entice another dog (or you) to join them.  This is normal dog social behavior.

Dogs are acute observers of what works and what doesn't.  When they discover that showing you their own toy gets a passing "good choice" but underwear or the TV remote gets everyone off the couch for a game of catch me if you can, it's a stupid dog who keeps parading a dog toy.  

It's important to note that chasing him around the room reinforces showing you a found item. 

Change what YOU do when he has something:  


  • Ignore the underwear and go pounce on a toy, make it irresistible, and play keep away with it.

  • Teach a willing trade!  Use this skill when he shows you something he found or you find him with something he shouldn't have.  Teach him to come find you and bring you things that he finds!


Sam with sock.jpg

Sam says, "Look, I found a sock! 

What he does next, depends on your response.


  • Do not turn it into a competition by trying to grab something before he can.  You will just increase its value and his desire to keep it.

  • Don't scold, hover or threaten.  Intimidating him out of it increases defensiveness and avoidance.

  • Do not chase the dog down, grab his face and forcibly extract the item. You will increase the likelihood of resource guarding or swallowing of items, which could be life threatening.

If you've done any of the above, the following training will take longer as you have to undo negative history and rebuild trust. This program will still work, it will just take a bit longer.  And you must be absolutely sure that no one in the family is falling back into old habits and undoing the trust you are building.


If your dog has a history of swallowing items, make sure the item you are using is too large to swallow and is really low value to your dog. 

If your dog has a history of resource guarding (growling, snapping or biting when they have something) ask for help from a trainer!

How to teach a willing trade:
Be prepared - have amazing treats handy!

You will not scold or chase.  You will be calm and positive.  You have a plan! 


  1. You will deliberately make sure he sees you drop a sock (or other item.)

  2. He picks it up.

  3. You ask, "what do you have?  Can I have that?" and toss a handful of treats on the floor a few feet away from him. 

  4. When he drops the sock to go eat the treats, casually pick up the sock. 

  5. When he finishes the treats and turns back, he sees you have the sock. 

  6. Toss the sock to him, and encourage him to go get it.

  7. When he picks it up, ask, "Can I have that?" and immediately throw another handful of treats off to the side for him to go get. 

  8. He'll drop the sock to go eat them.  Quietly pick up the sock. 

  9. Repeat.  


You are not bribing the sock away from him.  There is no "give me that sock and I'll give you some treats." 

You are merely creating a pattern.  Happy phrase, then treats fall.  Dog eats treats.
If he takes the sock with him to go collect the treats, toss a few more, further away so he moves away from the sock before you casually bend to pick it up.  We don't want to trigger a 'get the sock before you do' reflex.

After a few repetitions, two things will likely happen:  


He'll stop picking up the sock and want to work with you for treats.  Cool - put the sock away and have a training session!


He'll start moving toward you with the sock.  Back away a step or two to encourage him to keep moving toward you before you say, "can I have that?" and toss treats.  (Do NOT move toward him or reach for it.)  You are cultivating a nice "bring it here."  If he spits it out when you ask for it, mark it with a "Yes!" and feed him from your hand.  Then toss the sock again and back away as he moves toward you to exchange the sock for treats.  

Dogs who have a history of being chased may run off with the sock when you give it to them again. 

Note where they go.  You'll probably see a pattern:

1. They have the sock.
2. You ask, "can I have that?" and scatter treats.
3. They go eat the treats
4. You quietly pick up the sock.
5. They finish the treats and turn, you toss the sock and encourage them to get it.  
6. They grab the sock and run to their bed (or another location) and hunker down with it.
7. "Can I have that?" toss treats - they go eat them.  
8.  Pick up the sock and stand by the bed.
9.  Toss the sock and encourage them to get it.
10. Now they are moving toward you on their way to the bed.  "Yay! Can I have that?" Toss treats.  Repeat.

Your dog is finding safety and value in moving toward you with found items. 

You've changed the picture.  You are reducing the conditioned reflex of snatch and run away.  In fact, now when he finds that sock that didn't make it into the hamper, he brings it to you.  YAY!!   It will take time and many, many repetitions.  Keep it happy.  

The tug, drop and fetch in this video were started by shaping a willing trade.

To teach the "drop" the handler says, "drop" and the hand holding the toy goes limp.  The toy "dies" and is no longer active.  Treats fall - repeat!

  1. Dog must wait for the cue to "get it!"  No grabbing for the toy before the cue.

  2. Toy comes to life, there is resistance and fun competition.

  3. Handler says "drop" in a pleasant tone of voice.

  4. Toy goes limp - handler scatters treats just like in the trade game.

  5. Dog lets go to go collect treats.  Repeat.

When this is well-practiced, the handler says "drop" before the treats appear.  By now the sequence is so well-rehearsed that the dog lets go immediately in anticipation of the treats.  Now the cue "drop" elicits the drop behavior.

Retrieve and drop - "get it" and then toss the toy, as dog approaches, say "drop" and drop treats between your feet.  Dog will target the spot the treats always drop and let go of the toy to eat the treats.  I also taught Ellie to drop items into a basket between my feet.  As you can see, she is very clear about the placement of the item between my feet where the basket would be, and I no longer need to say "drop!".  The environmental cue has become my legs and feet.

Pick up the toy and replace it with the treats.  When they finish eating them you can alternate between tug or fetch.  How soon can you phase out the treats?  It will depend on how much your dog loves the games.  Some dogs love toys more than food.  If so, you can phase the food out right away.  The fetch or the tug will reinforce the drop.  Are you training a Labrador or a Chow?   The Lab will likely fetch all day for the joy of the game.  You can teach a Chow to enjoy the game, but they'd probably prefer a surprise treat now and then!  The treat jackpot will reinforce a sequence of tug and fetch.

Luna sock.jpg

Problem behavior?

Is this a "bad" puppy? or a brilliant one?


If this is a future service dog, whose job will be to help take her person's socks and shoes off at the end of the day, this is a brilliant dog!

If your dog loves to fetch and carry, you can teach him to "get it", "bring it", "put it", "drop it." He could learn to fetch and deliver, help clean the house and put his toys away.  Dogs love jobs!


Disclaimer:  The dog who knows that you like it when he brings things he's found to you, is more likely to bring found items to you, rather than run off and chew them up. Be sure to put this skill on cue so your dog doesn't spend all day looking for something else to bring you! Once the retrieve is on cue, If you didn't ask for it, you simply no longer pay for it.

At the end of the day, the dog who finds your passport while you are packing for that much awaited trip and brings it to you instead of taking it out in the yard and chewing it up, is an amazing dog!

See also:


Leave it
Counter Thieving


This handout may be reprinted in its entirety for distribution free of charge and with full credit given:
© CAROL A. BYRNES "DIAMONDS IN THE RUFF" Training for Dogs & Their People -
ditr_training @ - 

bottom of page