Dogs Who Steal Your Stuff

How to keep your puppy or dog from nabbing your stuff, and how to respond when it happens anyway.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
4-minute read
Episode #32

if you leave interesting stuff around of course she will sooner or later scavenge it. A puppy who grows up focused on exercise, legal chewies, and training time with you may rarely or never feel the need to poke around looking for snacks and fun. But once a snatch-and-grab habit has taken root, it’s as hard to shake as cigarettes. Prevent access, provide alternative outlets, and don’t blame your dog for her occasional lapses.

What to Do When Your Dog “Steals” Something

What to do about those? Take a deep breath and keep your cool. Shouting at your dog and rushing her to grab her prize is likely to produce a game of keep-away at best. At worst, she perceives a threat and gets scared and defensive. This is especially likely if you grab her, roll her over, and pry her jaws open to take whatever it is away. From your dog’s point of view, this is socially peculiar, to say the least. Imagine how you’d feel if out of the blue a close friend punched you and took your wallet away. Dogs repeatedly subjected to this kind of behavior may escalate from object “stealing” to object guarding. Human approach now constitutes a threat, and the canine response to a threat is growling, snapping, even biting.

Ignore “Theft,” or Distract or Bribe Your Dog If Necessary

If the object Dogalini’s gotten hold of is harmless and inexpensive, your best bet is to ignore her. No agitation, and no attention given to that attention-seeking grab-and-snatch. But if that’s your favorite shoe she’s got, or a potentially toxic food, go with distraction and bribery. Suddenly discover something fascinating at the other end of the room. Throw a ball. Pick up the leash and invite Dogalini for a walk. Or walk up to her quietly and trade her a bit of cheese or meat for whatever she has nabbed. Yes, the lesson for Dogalini is that stealing your socks induces you to part with your cheese or take her on a surprise inspection of the local fire hydrants. Never mind; you’re in damage control mode. “My people will give treats in exchange for my prize finds” is a much better lesson than “My people get weird and scary when they want something I’ve got.” As for you, review your canine theft-prevention exercises and remember to put away your shoes.

I love hearing from my listeners so this show can be responsive to your concerns. Email me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com or call 206-600-5661. And come see me on Facebook. Thank you, and goodbye for now!


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).