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I teach my dogs to immediately spit out a toy or dumbbell on command by using treats, but it's initially done in a separate training scenario (not while we're playing or practicing competition retrieves) because giving up the toy or dumbbell is a behavior all by itself. Once they learn it, I combine the release command with the other behaviors.

I use something that I can get my hands on, like a kong with a rope or a tennis ball with a rope through it. I put a bunch of really good meat or cheese treats in my mouth and then I hand the object to the dog. I let go of it, then reach to take it and say "give" (my release command) and then I immediately start spitting treats onto the top of my dog's head. I don't wait for them to give it - as soon as I give the command I start spitting. It only takes a few times and the dog is letting go of the object right away in anticipation of the treats.

And then I just wean them off the treats over a period of weeks or months - whatever it takes. I want the habit to become well established before I take away the treats. We still play tug when we want to play tug, but they learn to let go immediately on the "give" command without any arguing or tension between us Ieven in mid-tug once the behavior is set). It's worked on every dog I've used it on over the years, even diehard retrieving dogs who never want to let go. You just need to make sure that the treats you're using are of a high enough value to that particular dog, and if necessary do the training when the dog is hungry.

Melanie and the gang in Alaska
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