Most puppies and many adolescent dogs love to explore and chew, so it should be no surprise when they steal household objects. A puppy stealing socks is a big one, and many a puppy has ended up in emergency surgery after digesting one.
Don’t make it a game
Often when you try to get these back from your puppy, it often turns into a game of chasey, which is the last thing we want to do, as this is giving your dog the attention they crave. A puppy stealing socks loves the fact they smell of you, and loves the fact it turns into a fun game of ‘will I or won’t I give it back’ even more!
Even if you are yelling at a puppy stealing socks, they are still getting your attention which reinforces the behaviour. Threats and punishment are likely to make your puppy increasingly more possessive too.
Of course we should be teaching our dogs ‘leave it’ or ‘yuk’ as soon as possible, but that’s for another article.
Find something that they want more
When dealing with a puppy stealing socks, we need to find something that motivates them more, so they choose to take the better offer.
If their motivation is for fun and attention, then never go chasing or shouting after them.
Instead when the puppy looks toward you, excited say “good puppy; come show me!” Keep up the praise as the puppy approaches.
With a treat, entice the puppy to come, show the treat and when the puppy drops the stolen object, say “good dog”, sit and give them the reward.
You can start to put this on cue with “give” or “leave it “ then too.
For the hard headed juniors who are stealing items just for the chase, turn your back and walk away. This is what I do for my dog Vindi.
Sometimes I might go into a flat out run away from him so he comes chasing me, then I turn around excitedly, flop to the ground and offer the treat. Usually that does the trick, or he gets the close enough to do a fair trade the moment it drops.
Make sure you don’t ever turn it into a game of tug and war though. If they start to pull it back, hold very still, say a firm no, when they stop pulling mark with yes or good boy and offer that treat when they volunteer it.
Obviously food items are appealing all on their own, so you must find a higher value reward if it is some food they have grabbed and haven’t yet gulped down. For some dogs this might be another toy or ball, but for most dogs and puppies it is a usually a treat.
Sometimes you do need to ‘up’ the reward a bit, so a larger offering treat can be a decent trade off.
If they’re still not biting though, excuse the pun, then something like a Vitapet chicken tender will convince even the most hard headed dog to give it up. For puppies, try a chicken tender chew.
They are made with real chicken breast, which is a really high value reward for food motivated dogs. Plus they have no artificial colours and only natural preservatives. Or, if all else fails, roast chicken is usually any dog’s highest value reward. Of course you can’t always be carrying that around, which is why I keep broken up bits of the chicken tenders in my pocket before a walk.
So let’s recap:
- Never chase or play the game
- Offer a decent trade off in the form of a treat
- Reward them every time they voluntarily drop the item and,
- Start to teach them to “give” or “leave it” when they do.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is a NDTF certified dog behaviourist and trainer, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara also runs her own dog training and boarding business in Melbourne’s Bayside area and is the Author of Eat, Play, Love Your Dog.