Chris Shaughness

author, speaker, animal lover

Behavior Problems,  All Articles

Do You Live With a Thief?

Much of my consulting business deals with how to make pets stop doing certain behaviors. This month, let’s discuss when dogs steal objects that they shouldn’t have. While this behavior is annoying, it also can be dangerous to your dog if he or she chews and swallows a dangerous item. I have heard stories of dogs who swallow things like the TV remote (along with batteries), pantyhose, socks and even small light bulbs. All of these objects are potentially fatal, and the dogs needed expensive and life-threatening surgery.

Dogs steal objects for various reasons. Dogs steal food because it’s a primary urge and they love it! Another main reason why dogs steal is for attention. What fun it is when their people chase them! Or another reason they steal is boredom. Many of our dogs need more exercise and mental activity, having been left alone for hours at a time. The only way they can obtain it is to engage their owners in a game of keep away.

First, and most obviously, prevention is always best. I don’t know of many dogs who can resist food within their reach. Set your dog up for success and good health by ensuring that food is out of smell and sight. If you must have food out and cannot supervise your dog, when entertaining for example, please simply remove your dog from the room. Why tempt your dog? Also, try to ensure that any dangerous items are not within reach of your dog. If you know your dog is a thief, pretend like you live with a toddler who likes to pick up everything in sight. Move dangerous objects up high.

There are two commands every dog should be taught for their own safety: leave it and drop it. Leave it is used to tell your dog not to pick up an object. It has a number of applications: your dog has his eye on the brownies sitting dangerously close to the edge of the table; you accidentally drop your medication on the floor; when out for a walk, your dog tries to grab something off of the ground; your dog wants to chase the family cat; and the list goes on. If your dog knows the “leave it” command, you can stop your dog in his tracks and possibly save his life.

How do you show your dog not to touch an object? To teach your dog “leave it,” put him on a leash and find a favorite toy or bone – it must be something he really loves. Throw the object just out of his reach, and when he tries to grab it, hold him back with the leash and say “leave it.” Praise him generously when he stops, and you can even give him a very high quality treat like a piece of cheese or canned chicken. By all means, do not allow him to have the object. Practice, practice, practice this exercise until he will not attempt to grab the toy. With enough practice, you can take the leash off of your dog and move the object closer and closer without him attempting to steal it.