Today’s guest blog is brought to us by Mariah Hinds, CPDT-KA of Orlando Dog Manners and More in Orlando Florida. Thank you Mariah! This is a topic that most people struggle with as they raise their new family companions, so it’s worth a little training time!
How to teach your dog not to steal your things by Mariah Hinds
Dogs like to steal things. It’s fun and it will definitely get your attention! Unfortunately, it can also be dangerous if the dog is shredding the item and possibly consuming parts of the stolen goods.
What can we do about this challenge?
Access to lots of appropriate items
If your dog has lots of appropriate items to chew on and destroy then she is less likely to steal your things. However, a puppy isn’t likely to walk 25 feet to grab an appropriate chew toy, so make the “right” choice easy for them! Have 10-20 toys of various textures spread out in the main living space so they are an easy and obvious choice when your puppy is looking for something to do.
Prevent your dog from having access to forbidden items when you are not in the room with the dog. Use baby gates or exercise pens. Ask your family members to keep doors shut and keep high value items out of reach of the dog. Over time, your dog will not develop the habit of taking things that are not hers for the taking!
Teach the dog that the item is not their toy and that ignoring the item is preferred
If you take a 2 year old child’s toy and put it out of reach, when the child has access to the toy again, the child will play with it. This is true with dogs too, so in addition to preventing inappropriate chewing, we want to do some specific training to help the dog learn to actively avoid our things. The child or dog needs to learn that the item is, in fact, not their toy. The most efficient way to teach the dog to ignore the item is to reward them for ignoring it.
I prefer to teach this skill without any verbal interruption, such as using a “leave it” cue. I have found that the dog gets reliant on the cue, and then it takes longer for the dog to leave the item alone automatically.
How to practice
Start on the list below where the dog can be successful. Not too hard but not too easy either! If the dog does the undesired behavior two times in a row or 50% of the time, go back a step. If the dog is making the desired choice 60-80%, continue rewarding the appropriate choice and starting over if the dog makes an undesired choice. When the dog is 80% reliable, make it more difficult by moving to the next step.
- Have your treats ready and the forbidden item in your hand.
- When the dog looks at the item, say yes and throw a reward away from you.
- Repeat several times until the dog is no longer jumping at the item in your hands.
- Put the item on the floor. Throw a treat in the opposite direction the moment the dog looks at the item.
- Repeat several times until the dog is offering to look at the item without moving towards it.
- Wait until the dog gets 3 or 4 feet from the item and reward the dog by throwing the reward in the opposite direction. Repeat 2 or 3 times.
- Wait for the dog to walk up to the item. If the dog sniffs the item or does anything other than grabbing the item, reward the dog by throwing a treat the opposite direction.
- If the dog grabs the item, have the dog drop it (by trading for a cookie) and try again. However, it is really important that the dog gets more rewards for ignoring the item or walking past it then they get rewards for dropping it when asked. We don’t want to teach the sequence of grab the item in order to be cued to drop it and then get rewarded!
- Vary where you are in the room and continue practicing and rewarding the dog for looking or walking past the item without grabbing it. Practice while you multi-task as well so the dog learns that you are always paying attention.
- When the dog has been 80% successful at ignoring the item when you are in the room and the dog has access to the item, you can start working on the dog leaving the item alone when you leave the room. To start, go out of the room for 3 seconds and reward the dog upon your return as long as the dog didn’t bite the forbidden item. Make it more difficult when the dog is 80% successful with that amount of time.
Clever Livy has practiced this skill with different items in the past so she makes fast progress through the steps in this video.