Dog Behavior & Training

Teaching your Dog to “Pick it Up” or “Take It”

Teaching your dog to take it
Written by Kevin Sando

Trick or Treating can be lots of fun for the humans in the house, but taking your dog out on Halloween is probably not a good idea.

Just because we don’t advise taking your dog out for trick or treating, doesn’t mean that he/she can’t be part of the fun!

How, you ask?

Teach your old dog a new trick!

If you know Harley and Charlie at all, you know that they are friendly guys who LOVE Halloween. No, it’s not because we dress them up in great costumes…it’s because of all of the children who come to our door looking for candy.

They just love visitors! Every year we put a baby gate up in the doorway and allow them to answer the door when the kids come knocking! They love it and so do the kids!

Harley in a dog dinosaur costume and Charlie dressed as a skeleton.

This year we decided that we would elevate the greeting a little and get the boys involved by helping them carry the candy container to the door!

To accomplish this, we are teaching the dogs to “Take It” and “Hold it”.

How to Teach Your Dog to “Take It”

All teaching starts with a little bit of positive reinforcement. We are strong proponents of using a clicker for teaching a new trick because it helps to reinforce the exact moment that your dog does one of the approximations of the behavior that you are looking for.

What you will need

Make sure you have plenty of a treats on hand before any training session.

Step 1: Charge the Clicker

If your dog has never used a clicker before, or if they haven’t used it in a while, start by “charging” the clicker.

Charging a clicker isn’t complicated, simply click then treat your dog.

The click will start to get their attention. You will know that the clicker is “charged” when the sound of the click stops them in their tracks as they wait for a treat!  

Practicing clicker training with our Golden Retriever Charlie

Step 2: Find a Toy, Click When He Touches It/ Picks it Up

The next step can be done in one of two ways. You can choose to have your dog pick up the object from the floor, or take it from your hand.

From the Floor

Clear the room of any other toys or loose objects that might be distracting or confusing.

Place the toy between you and your dog. Your dog will look to you and try to figure out what you want them to do so that he can get a treat.

Charlie trying to figure out what we want him to do

When Charlie started learning, he tried all of his tricks like sit, lay, paw, place, etc. to figure out what I wanted.

This is the hard part, but wait! Your dog will explore his environment and learn! As soon as your dog touches the toy with his mouth, click and reward.

If your dog needs a little help with this step, pick up the toy for a moment, point it out, or move it in some way to bring their attention to it.

Once again, AS SOON as they touch it with their mouth/pick it up, click and reward!

Pointing out the object that we want Charlie to pick up

Keep doing this until your dog is consistently touching the toy with his mouth. Because your goal is to have your dog “take” the object, start to only click and reward when they pick it up. This is how you will shape the behavior!

From your Hand

To have your dog take something from your hand, the steps are similar. While holding an object in one hand, click and reward when your dog touches the toy with his mouth or puts it in his mouth!

This can be a little harder because there is not as much separation between you, your dog, and the treats that you have, so he may be distracted by your treats!

Handing the toy to Charlie

PRO TIP: Use a toy or familiar object that your dog likes to play with already!

Step 3: Pair the Command “Take It”

Once your dog is consistently putting the object in his mouth and getting that you want him to work with the toy, pair it with a command such as “Take It” or “Pick It Up”. Keep on clicking and treating until the command gets your dog to pick up the toy!

Teaching a dog to pick up a toy with positive reinforcement

Step 4: Generalize – Try Different Toys

After your dog gets the verbal command, try to switch out the object that you are using. Be sure to take the toy that you had been using away so that it is not confusing.

This will help your dog to learn that your command applies to lots of different things, not just the toy that you used at first!  Be sure to keep on clicking and treating!

Step 5: Increase the Time Your Dog Holds the Item

After lots of practice over several training sessions, you can shape the behavior so that your dog will hold the object in his mouth for a longer period.

Simply place the item on the floor/hand it to your dog and only click and reward when he holds it in his mouth for a predetermined amount of time.

Start small, 2 seconds, then reward. Gradually, you can build up longer periods. When they start to get what you want them to do, you can introduce a command such as “hold it” to show them that you want them to keep the item in their mouth!

How Can I Use This Trick?

There are a lot of uses for this trick. This trick is a great foundation for more complex tricks like getting them to clean up their toys. It’s also great if you love to photograph your dog with something in his mouth, pick up the newspaper, etc.

Teaching our dog to carry a bucket to the door on Halloween!

How Did We Use This Trick?

Halloween of course! We generalized this trick to a pumpkin bucket that we use for candy for our trick-or-treaters.

We first practiced it by having them pick up the empty bucket, then by adding some weight so they would get used to it being a bit heavier.

On Halloween, they will be ready to go live with this trick and greet our trick-or-treaters at the door!

Charlie is ready to serve our Trick-or-Theater's!

If you want to try something similar, awesome!

Just be sure to hand your dog the bucket of candy and then take it away from them so they don’t eat any of it!

About the author

Kevin Sando

Kevin is a mechanical engineer with a degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology. He has move than a decade experience in new product design, prototyping and early stage manufacturing. Pairing this background with his love of dogs, gives him a unique perspective to evaluate the design and execution of new and interesting pet products.