Training Matilda to hold a toy was one of our most difficult training challenges yet.
I really wanted her to be able to hold a toy for more than 2 seconds for adorable photo ops. But none of the training methods I read about online were working.
One source said to rub her chin while she held the toy to keep her from dropping it. But that never worked. Like any dog would, she’d drop the toy immediately to lick my hand.
Most tricks are easily taught with food motivation, but that lead to a serious obstacle. Matilda could not hold a toy while eating, so she’d quickly drop it in anticipation of yum-yum.
It was difficult to help her understand what I needed her to do. She was becoming frustrated, and it wouldn’t have been fair of me to keep withholding treats while waiting for her to “get it.”
So, I combined all of the methods below, some in a single training session, others at separate times, to help her understand “hold” and the accompanying hand signal.
The “Hold” Command And Hand Signal
When I tell Matilda to hold, I say hooooold the same way I say waiiitt or staaaayyy.
I paired this with a very simple hand signal – a clasped hand that resembles a dog holding something in their mouth.
At the same time, I was teaching her “let go,” while opening my hand. I also say “let go” when she has something she shouldn’t, spoken just briskly enough to get her to look up and drop the object. Then, I’ll toss an appropriate snack at her while I collect the forbidden object.
The Leash Method
First, practice fetch with a leash, encouraging your dog to mouth at it and pick it up just before you go out for walks. Your dog should be familiar with holding her leash in her mouth.
Sit next to your dog, and hold the leash up to her mouth, praising her when she mouths at it.
Then, hold one side of the leash with your clasped hand – while making that “hold” signal.
Praise your dog when she grabs the leash. When she drops it, drop your end of the leash, too, as you say “let go,” or “drop it.”
Until she gets the hang of it, say “let go” and drop the leash whenever she does. Praise and reward her when she’s able to hold the leash for brief moments. Within a few training sessions, she should start watching your hand and imitating your movements, holding the leash while you do, and waiting to release when you give the command and hand signal.
The Delayed Fetch Method
First, teach your dog to fetch and place a toy directly into your hand. Don’t reward her if she drops the toy at your feet. Practice fetch-to-hand for a few weeks, until your dog really “gets it,” picking up the toy when it lands on the floor instead of your hand.
Then, you’ll be able to toss the toy for a fetch, and when you put your hand out for your dog to give you the toy, move your hand away for a moment before accepting the toy.
Your goal is to get your dog to hold the toy for just a moment while she waits for your hand. This will take a few tries.
As your dog begins to get the idea, pausing with the toy in her mouth until you open your hand to accept the toy, you can begin to say the “hold” command and use the hand signal to put a cue to that action.
The Try Again Method
I found an object that was very easy for Matilda to hold in her mouth – a regular black hair tie.
At first, I’d give it to her, and she’d spit it out immediately. I said nothing, and gave it back to her.
There was a lot of spitting and giving at first. Then, she’d hold the hairtie just for a moment – even while she heard a noise outside.
I praised and rewarded her for those tiny successful moments. I didn’t say “no,” when she spat it out, because she hadn’t done anything wrong – she just didn’t understand what I was looking for. I simply gave her the hairtie again so she’d pick it up, and we’d try again.
As your dog gets the hang of it, start taking pictures while she holds.
Practice with different objects. She can learn to hold up different objects, even a paper sign.
You can evolve the trick by having her hold a paintbrush, then teaching her to paint.
Ask her to “hold” occasionally during games of fetch, or when she grabs her leash to go out. Get her into a habit of holding items until you tell her to “let go.”
You’ll find many creative uses for “hold,” so even if it takes a lot of trial and error to find a method that helps her understand the concept, it’ll lead to so many cute moments and training opportunities.