Owning a dog who steals your socks or runs off with the TV remote can be difficult to deal with. No matter how many times you tell them to drop it, they just look at you with their tail wagging waiting for you to chase after them. The game of catch me if you can, can often end in tears especially if your dog decides its theirs and will bite you if you attempt to retrieve it from their slobbery jaws. The one thing you don’t want to do is play their game!

Why does my dog steal items around the house?

Believe it or not your dog stealing can often be a cry for attention! Boredom can be the cause for a lot of unwanted behaviours, stealing being one of them. By chasing your dog around the house reinforces the behaviour as it now becomes fun for your dog. They have something, you want it, you chase them, they run and its fun and the more you chase them the more they will do it. Your dog learns that by stealing the TV remote you are going to pay them attention, but the flip side of ignoring the behaviour is that they will destroy it.

What should I do when my dog steals items from around the house?

My advice is to not go after the item but instead get the dog. We now know that by paying more attention to the item makes it more valuable, your dog will still repeat offend as they learn your socks are valuable to you and you will go after them. So instead of going after the item and wasting your breath by shouting ‘drop it’ or ‘leave it’ while your dog hides under the table, work on your recall. Recall training is such an important skill to teach your dog, not only is it useful in the park it is also useful in these situations too. Your dog should have the association that their name equals something positive. Now I know what some of you are thinking, “I’ve tried calling my dog but they wont come for the treats or the toy”. This could be due to the fact you’ve reinforced the game of ‘chase me’ that much it’s become fun for your dog and what you have doesn’t compare. Also you need to know what you dog likes and really enjoys to do. When I’m working with a dog I look at what the dog likes and likes to do.
For example:

  • Does the dog like food?  YES
  • What food does the dog like?  All food
  • Does the dog prefer certain food over others?  YES – prefers cheese over all food.
  • This now tells me the dog will work harder for cheese than it will do for dog treats.
  • Does the dog like toys? YES
  • Does the dog prefer certain toys over others? YES – tennis balls
  • What does your dog like to do with the toy? Likes to chase after the ball, but not retrieve it.
  • This tells me the dog only like chasing after tennis balls.
  • Now I know what the dog likes and likes to do so I will encourage that activity.

How can I retrieve the item my dog has stolen?

A prerequisite could be to teach your dog a ‘leave it’. Rewarding your dog when they leave an item by throwing treats or toys for them. But as I’ve said this can fall on deaf ears. I have found there is a lot of mirroring in dog training and this is a topic I will discuss another time. When your dog has something valuable to you, you then need to have something valuable to your dog. Or at least make it appear valuable to them. If we know your dog likes tearing apart soft toys or scoffing down pieces of chicken, then we will use that. But we need to mirror the behaviour, I don’t mean act like a dog. I mean act like what you have is precious and your dog can’t have it. Pretend what you have is like a fragile baby bird and you have to protect it. Call your dog and let them see you are protecting this ‘baby bird’. They will want to investigate what you have and by making it harder to get to only makes it more appealing to them. Now the game has been reversed, they will want to chase YOU around the house. If you are using food only let them get a few pieces at a time, this will make them want more. If you are using a toy play with them. Now once you have created enough distance between your dog and the item, you can pick the item up. However the game doesn’t stop there! If we stop the game there they will soon learn this deception and will either play along and then quickly run back to the item, or not leave it at all. So you need to play the game a little longer after you have put the item away. Remember your dog is bored, crying out for attention, this is one of the needs your dog has and has to be met so go and have some fun with them!

How can I prevent my dog from stealing items from around the house?

If you have a serial thief on your hands it may be a good idea to put away items they are more likely to steal. If they steal your shoes then make sure they are shut away in a cupboard, if they steal the TV remote then put it up high enough for them not to get to. As I have already mentioned stealing can stem from boredom so make sure your dog gets regular exercise. Spend some time playing mental games with them like the cup game (have three cups and hide treats under one of them), search games are fun too as well as teaching them fun tricks. You could also look to take your dog to training clubs, at Royvon we have regular Dog Clubs or even look for agility clubs. These will give your dog mental and physical stimulation.

For more help with your dog please visit our website www.royvon.co.uk to find the right training options for you.