How do I stop my dog stealing things?
Many dog owners around the globe can relate to the experience of finding their belongings chewed up, buried in the garden or hidden under their dog’s bedding. Quite a few have even had the privilege of spending a lot of money at the vets to remove certain household items from their dog’s digestive tract! Dogs are expert scavengers and no owner who is currently finding that they live with a reckless thief is alone. Not only is this behaviour problematic for us – whether we’re starting to run out of socks or we’ve lost something a bit more valuable to our covert canines – but it can have disastrous consequences for our dogs. Ingesting foreign objects can not only result in the aforementioned large vet bill, but can pose a very real risk to our dog’s health and even their lives.
It's therefore really important that we get on top of this problem. Here are our top tips for preventing your puppy or dog from stealing items around the house.
This is a big one and has to be first on the list. Practice makes perfect, so the number one way to stop your dog from stealing things… is to stop them having access to those things. Keeping tempting items like the TV remote tidied away when you’re not there, and even using baby gates, crates and dog pens to limit which areas of the house your dog has access to is the best way to keep them and your belongings safe. Keeping surfaces like the kitchen counter tidy by popping things away in cupboards, and not leaving your dog unsupervised in rooms where we can’t keep everything out of reach are integral. These measures may not be necessary for all of your dog’s life, but they’re a good habit to get into – especially with items that may be dangerous for your dog – and are certainly vital while your dog is learning what is and isn’t appropriate for them to play with. Every time your dog finds a new item on the worktop or dining table and runs off to have fun eating it or pulling it apart, they’re learning that the worktop and dining table are good places to look for fun stuff!
Training a “Drop”
Teaching your dog that relinquishing items to you is a good thing is the best way to ensure we can retrieve contraband from them quickly, easily and without stress! Always, always swap items for something good like a favourite toy or a treat and then get to work teaching your dog to drop things on cue. You can check out our tutorial on how to do this via our Dogversity online learning portal.
Don’t Turn it Into a Game
Dogs love a game of “keep away,” so if they learn you’ll chase them around the house they may steal things just to illicit this response from you. Avoid chasing after your dog – let’s face it, they’re quicker than us and we don’t stand a chance. Immediately go and find the best treats or toy you can, so your dog comes to you instead. Never grab your dog and simply take the item without swapping it for something good – this could lead to your dog guarding items, by either swallowing them before you have a chance to take them or by displaying aggressive behaviours like growling, snapping or biting. If you’re worried about your dog learning to take things just so you’ll get them a treat, see our first tip above! Management is THE way to stop your dog learning to steal things for fun, but once they’ve already got something the least damaging option is to swap it for a sausage!
Lots of Alternatives
Lots of dogs love to carry things, chew things, rip things up – some dogs even just like to stash things! Make sure you provide your dog with loads of different toys of various textures. You can redirect your dog to these if they’re taking an interest in items they shouldn’t have, and you can even play those “keep away” games when your dog picks up a toy! You can also provide them with things like egg boxes with treats and kibble inside for them to tear up (supervise to make sure they’re not consuming all the cardboard!), as well as a variety of doggy chews to satisfy them. Appropriate outlets for their behaviours will make it much easier to convince them to leave your things alone, without creating a bored and frustrated dog.
Yep, I know this one was already covered, but I think it’s worth bringing it up again because this really is the most important step in the programme! Without management, you’re fighting an uphill battle. It might feel like a lot of effort to go to, but any initial effort spent rearranging things and teaching yourself to pop things away is considerably less than the potential expense – mentally and financially! – of not doing so. You can do everything else right, but if you’re missing this key component then you may still lose this battle!