Stealing stuff in the house (socks, underwear, bras, couch pillows, etc) is one of the most common problems puppy owners have as their puppies get older. Unfortunately it stems from how smart and clever our dogs are at training their humans. Puppies quickly learn that they can immediately get all the attention and get their humans to play a GREAT game just by stealing “forbidden”: items. Here are some tips to prevent this from becoming an issue with your puppy:
Prevent the problem
Manage the situation! If the socks are all put away your puppy can’t steal them. The more they practice stealing the better they get at it so it is important not to let them learn this skill in the first place. The first year of a puppy’s life is when they develop “preferences” for things like toys, chews, games, etc. If we can be diligent for that first few months, we can ensure they develop appropriate preferences rather than spending a whole lifetime working to change them.
If you puppy happens to steal a sock, avoid chasing him around. Keep away quickly becomes a VERY fun game for puppy and a terrible game for you. First, go find a treat and take a deep breath. Approach nonchalantly, toss a treat, and calmy remove the item. Your puppy will quickly learn that he can trade stolen items for a treat. This a good first step, as it is much safer than puppy swallowing, guarding or destroying the item. If puppy freezes, growls, or tries to quickly swallow the item consult a experienced dog trainer immediately as this can quickly become a serious problem.
Puppies need to learn impulse control. We want them to think about what they do instead of just stealing things and doing whatever they want. It's Your Choice is a great game to play. Once your puppy has mastered the idea of making choices, we can do set ups with commonly stolen objects. Puppy Day School puppy, Finn, demonstrates self control set ups in this video.
Toys, Toys and More Toys
Make sure your puppy has plenty of toys! There should be a variety of types of toys, and toys should be rotated so they stay exciting. We want puppy to have 20 right choices and a maximum of one or two wrong choices. This stacks the odds in your favor! If your puppyh makes a right choice and chooses a puppy toy make a big deal of it! Play with the puppy! Grabbing toys should make the BEST games ever happen. Play fetch or tug with the toy, play a game of keep away, shower your puppy with treats. Choosing to grab toys should be SO MUCH FUN. Grabbing stolen items should be very boring compared to grabbing toys.
Teach a Drop Cue
Teach your puppy to drop items on cue. Give your puppy an interesting chew toy, sit beside him. Occasionally toss a treat. Our goal here is for the puppy to expectantly stop chewing and look up at you when your hand moves to toss a treat. This video demonstrates teaching a puppy “drop” cue. If your puppy growls, runs away or tries to swallow the item stop and talk to a knowledgeable dog trainer.