Trade Ya! – A Simple Skill that Can Save a Life!

In my basic group classes I always say, “If your dog learns three things in life they need to be, don’t bite people, come when called and trade ya. Everything else is icing on the top of the training cake.” Most clients ask me why, because all they want is their dog to stop jumping and pulling. The answer is those three behaviors can save your dog’s life. I have seen many clients put up with crazy behaviors from their dogs, but none are life threatening to the dog.

In my classes we teach Trade Ya! as a behavior that means please drop when you have in your mouth and trade it to me for a cookie (treat, reward, etc). The reason we call it Trade Ya! is to remind the owners that they need to always trade some thing with the dog. It is rude to go over to your dog and just grab something out of their mouths. Just like its rude to go to your neighbors house and take something from their refrigerator.

One of the tricks to first teaching Trade Ya! is that you have to trade equal or higher value for what the dog has, and the DOG gets to determine value! Yep, you read that right. So your dog might have used tissues and your get out a piece of their kibble. They look at you and pause for a moment and think “that’s nice” and keep eating the tissue. Sorry, you have learned stolen dirty tissue is better then their food. So now go grab a piece of cheese and just the sound of the plastic wrapper has your dog dropping the tissue and running to your side. Ah, good, cheese trumps tissues! Now Trade Ya! training is ready to go.

My favorite way to start training Trade Ya! is with the dog’s own toys. If they are happily playing with a stuffy, I’ll approach with a high value treat and say Trade Ya! If need be I’ll put the treat right by their nose so they get a good smell. Once they drop their stuffy they get the treat and then I engage them back to playing with their toy. Hum, they think, I trade, get a great treat and get my toy back too. Awesome, total win-win in the dog’s mind. I do this a lot, always with things they dog can get back at first. Sooner or later they understand Trade Ya! means drop what’s in your mouth and I’ll pay you for it with a cookie (or cheese, or chicken, or tennis ball, etc) Now we have a behavior that can save your dog’s life!

I have two favorite life saving Trade Ya! stories. The first is from a dog that I bred, Winston.  Winston is a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, and his owner always planned on participating in hunt tests with him. So, from the moment he moved in whenever he had something in his mouth, good, bad or otherwise he was traded. Winston is a pretty cheap date and will gladly always trade for kibble, which is easy. One day when he was a little past two years old he came trotting up to his owner. By the look on his face she was pretty sure he had something in his mouth, but she couldn’t see anything. She held out her hand and said Trade Ya! and out came a razor! He had stolen it off the edge of the bathtub shortly after one of her teenaged daughters had used it with raspberry bath wash. It smelled delicious to Winston. Thankfully two years of rewarding trading made Winston know it was worth bringing a new object to mom. Eight years later, Winston is still going strong and just won his class for Veteran dogs over 10 years of age at the Toller national show. To think we could have lost him years ago if trading was not as valuable to him, we can’t even imagine.

My second Trade Ya! story comes from my very own Rizzo. The summer she was 3 years old our dog sitter was out in Rizzo loves to have something in her mouth the yard with her and she heard this awful screaming, squealing, sound. Quickly she figures out the Rizzo has finally caught the chipmunk, that she has been stalking all summer long. The sitter panics, not wanting Rizzo to eat the chipmunk or let it loose in the house. She starts yelling all sorts of cues that Rizzo ignores, mainly because she does not know them. Finally, in a stroke of genius she yells out Trade Ya! Rizzo promptly drops the chipmunk, and runs into the house for her cookie. The chipmunk runs off, we assuming shortly there after has a heart attack. One chipmunk life saved, thanks to Trade Ya! Now why would Rizzo trade a high value thing like a live chipmunk for a small crunchy cookie? Easy, she has years of high value, and high repetition of Trade Ya! She knew for sure she was going to get something for her effort.

Trade Ya! is such a valuable skill. It has so many uses and life saving added value. It’s never too early or too late to work on teaching your dog to share with you using Trade Ya!

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