How do you get your dog to stop stealing your remotes, your pillows, food, or your shoes? It’s a tough question, with multiple answers, depending on the contraband. But regardless of the answer, your dog should get adequate exercise and mental stimulation like puzzles and chew toys. A tired dog is a good dog.
Dogs steal things for various reasons – boredom, attention seeking, playing, and collecting, to name the most common reasons. But regardless of the reason, how do you stop it? First, it’s important to teach your dog a couple of important commands – “leave it” and “drop it”. Self explanatory, these commands will teach your dog to leave your things alone or if it’s too late, to drop those things. Please see my other blogs for directions on how to teach those commands. You will want to practice these commands for 10 minutes each, every day, for at least 3 weeks in order for them to take hold. After that, your pup will most likely “leave it” and “drop it” on command. I say most likely, because no one is perfect, even a dog. Your dog may find some things irresistible and this may take more finesse from you. That is where high value treats come in.
What is a high value treat? Humans will work harder for a $100 bill versus a $50 bill. Dogs will also pay more attention and respond more quickly to a high value treat. High value treats are things like steak, chicken or even freeze dried beef liver. Most treats that most people buy are medium to low value – the stuff you buy at the pet store or supermarket. Usually, the treats are called “chicken recipe” or “salmon recipe”, meaning they are not pure chicken or salmon and thus won’t grab your dog’s attention like a high value treat.
Your dog is way faster than you are, so trying to catch them after they steal is not a good idea. Although it’s counterintuitive, ignoring your canine robber is your best option, assuming the contraband is not dangerous, expensive, or in danger of being ingested. Eventually, in a day or several weeks, your pup will come to the conclusion that nothing good comes from the thievery so she’ll just stop doing it.
But what if the item is dangerous, expensive or at risk of being swallowed? That’s where the high value treats come in, along with finesse. You shouldn’t ever yell at your dog, because if she’s stealing items to get your attention, she wins. It’s best to casually walk toward your dog and say something like “what do you have there?” and start dropping high value treats in a line, starting near your pup and moving feet away, so that your dog will drop the item and move away from it. At that point, you can casually reclaim the item. Now, assuming the item is not dangerous, expensive or swallowable, give the item right back to your dog and start dropping the high value treats again. After you reclaim the item again, rinse and repeat. After several sessions over several days of doing this, your dog will be conditioned to release the item at the sight of a high value treat and the trade will be easier and easier.
Some dogs may continue to steal dangerous, expensive or swallowable items. Your options are to better manage your household and keep these things out of range, to keep improving your dog’s “leave it” and “drop it” skills, or continue to do the trade game.