My puppy is a thief!

I am answering a Frequently Barked Question: How do I stop my puppy from stealing things?

I have been told about puppies running away with items of clothing when their bipeds are getting dressed, puppies running off with the remote control when their bipeds want to watch television, puppies unpacking the children’s school bags and puppies taking and chewing shoes – to name but a few things these rascals are getting up to.

Puppies just want to have fun! The idea of ownership is a very human view of things. Your puppy is inviting you to play. If you’ve ever chased after your puppy to get something back then you’ve inadvertently accepted the invitation and rewarded the behaviour. Playing at keeping an item from bipeds is a lot of fun! I love to play this game in the garden where there’s plenty of room to run around, but I only do this with one of my toys when my bipeds have agreed to play. I will explain why I stopped trying to take things from my bipeds.

Pyrenean Mountain Dog, or Great Pyrenees, puppy with Tibetan Terrier puppy

Puppies just want to have fun!

My bipeds tried to avoid situations where I could take something and they also did training with me so that I would learn not to take things. My bipeds were very tidy when I was young, they put everything, even all their shoes, into cupboards so that I couldn’t often get hold of anything I shouldn’t – I can tell you now that being tidy doesn’t come naturally to them! They also only allowed me in certain rooms – the ones where they weren’t leaving anything interesting for me to get at!

My bipeds ensured that I had plenty of playtime at fairly regular intervals and I had short training sessions. One of the things they taught me was “give it”, which meant that I should exchange whatever I had for something that they were holding to give me. Sometimes I had to think hard about whether I wanted to swap, but they were always offering me something more interesting.

They also taught me “leave it”. They began this by putting a fairly boring treat on the floor and when I went to take it they covered it with a hand. I didn’t try very hard to get it and when I stopped trying I was rewarded with a very tasty treat. When I knew the request to “leave it” they gradually did this with more interesting things, but the reward was always nicer than whatever I was being asked not to touch.

Cartoon of dog raiding rubbish, drinking from toilet etc.

A few examples showing when “leave it” could be useful!
Attribution: By LELE43 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

They also worked with me on sitting when asked. This seemed an easy way to earn a tasty treat, lots of praise, or some playtime with them. We did this so often that “sit” is almost automatic and they use this to their advantage!

With these three requests at their disposal, it was impossible for me to run off with something and have a game. If they saw me about to pick something up they would say, “leave it”. I would get a treat and then be encouraged to play with one of my own toys. If I managed to pick something up before they noticed, they would ask me to “sit”, and then they would approach me and ask me to “give it”. Again, I would be given a treat and encouraged to play with one of my own toys.

I noticed that if I was settled down playing with one of my own toys, they would often give me a treat as they walked past. They would also tell me how pleased they were with me and sometimes they would join in the game with my toy! I gradually gave up trying to get them to play with things like the remote control, as they never joined in. It was more rewarding to play with one of my own toys and if they chose to join in that made it even better!

See you next Wednesday!