We’ve all been there, especially during puppy training. Your beloved pooch has suddenly gotten hold of something you don’t want them to have and that they don’t want to give up. Sometimes, you try to get the object by chasing them down, which ends up being a fun game for the dog but a frustrating one for you – few of us win the game of chase! Or, perhaps you’ve tried to pry open their mouth while wondering if your dog’s teeth clamped together was the inspiration behind the jaws of life machine.

It can be challenging to get your dog to relinquish a forbidden object. Who can blame them? That said, most creatures will give up something in order to get something they want more. This is where the “trade” cue comes in handy.

Training the trade cue is easy if you have a good bargaining tool. For example, my golden, Grady, loves tennis balls, which is fine except then he shreds them, which leaves a mess for me to clean… and I’m also not entirely sure it is good for him to shred a tennis ball. I know if I try to get him to trade a tennis ball for a stick, he won’t do it, but he is generally very good about trading for a treat (being the foodie that he is!). On the other hand, his brother, Dawson, cannot pass up a good stick (and apparently, they’re all good). Trading the stick for a treat doesn’t always work for him, but trading for a toy does. Like in all negotiations, it is good to know what appeals to your counterpart.

You can use a clicker to teach the trade cue. If you do, be sure that your click is timed perfectly. Show your dog what they will get for the trade. Click when the dog releases the object, which means you need to click the second they open their mouth. Say “trade.” Reward AFTER you pick up the discarded object.

You can also teach the trade cue without a clicker. Show the dog what you have to trade, and as they spit out the forbidden object, say “trade,” quickly pick up the object, and immediately reward.

A few tips. When you are first training, pick up the object quickly so that you can reward your dog quickly. You want your dog to learn that if they give up something, they get something better in return. If you reward before picking up the discarded object, you can bet that they will grab the treat and the object before you have a chance to get it. Dogs are very clever!

Another very important thing. If your dog declines the trade, in all likelihood you do not have something to offer that is of enough value to your dog. This is especially true when teaching them to trade. Offer your dog something that you know they won’t refuse. And, as always, lots of praise for a job well done. Sometimes, I will give my dog back what they just gave up and then trade for it again. I want my dog to take a gamble on the possibility of getting back the object, even if that happens once in a blue moon. Then they might be faster to trade in the future.

Here’s a clip of Grady trading a tennis ball for a treat. You can see that the first trade happens quickly. On the second one, he’s not so sure he wants to give up the ball until he sees the treat. Grady’s a tough negotiator!

And here’s an enthusiastic Dawson showing a quick version of the trade command. I think the second drop of the tennis ball was an attempt to entice me in a game of fetch (which we did as a reward after the video shoot!).
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