Is your dog a thief?

What does she steal?

Dogs carry objects in their mouths because they have no other choice. If they want to take it with them, they’ve got to grab it with their teeth, pick it up, and hold onto it. For many dogs, carrying objects is an innate behavior bred into them for practical purposes.

For many owners, though, having a dog that carries objects in her mouth can be a real pain. Often, those objects should be off-limits to the dog—for example, your underwear, when it’s dragged out in front of company!

Dogs grabbing off-limits items can result in more than embarrassing incidents, of course. Dogs can destroy valuable items by gnawing on them. Dogs can lose important items by taking them outside. Dogs can threaten their own lives by swallowing items that might make them very sick.

Do yourself a favor—don’t leave within a dog’s reach anything you don’t want the dog to have.

And be realistic about what your dog can reach, especially if you have an experienced counter-surfer or a dedicated furniture-mover. Look on the Internet for home videos of what dogs have done to get to food, say, that’s been left where their owners would have sworn their dogs couldn’t go.

  • You can’t expect your dog to know what’s okay and what’s not okay to pick up.
  • You can’t punish your dog because she’s picked up something within reach.
  • You can’t let your dog run off with something valuable or something dangerous.

Avoid creating attractive nuisances. Close doors, put things away. You are responsible for your dog’s safety and the safety of any objects you don’t want her to carry off.

This is especially true if you have young children. It’s your job to be sure kids’ toys and other belongings are either picked up and put away securely, or stay behind closed doors the dog can’t open. Young children can’t be held responsible for the safety of their own belongings. If you’re the parent or caregiver, you must be willing to accept that responsibility yourself.


What’s the best way to get your dog to give you an object in her mouth?

First, what not to do:

  1. Don’t yell at the dog.

When you yell at a dog with something in her mouth, you risk frightening her. If she believes she’s going to be punished, she’ll run away. That’s not what you want.

  1. Don’t chase the dog.

When you chase a dog with something in her mouth, you risk her thinking you want to take it from her. If she believes you’ll take it, she’ll run away.

  1. Don’t grab the dog.

When you grab a dog with something in her mouth, you risk the dog’s being frightened of being punished, being fearful you’ll take away what she has, or feeling physically attacked. If you grab the dog, she may well drop what she’s holding, yes. But only so she can bite her attacker—you.

  1. Don’t grab the object in the dog’s mouth. Don’t try to pry open her mouth.

Why not? Again, because your dog might bite you.

  1. Don’t lose your temper.

When you yell at, chase, or grab a dog with something in her mouth because you are angry, you risk her fleeing even faster or, worse, using her teeth on you to make you stop.

You may well be angry because your dog has gotten something you don’t want her to have, but remember, you’re the one who made a mistake, not the dog. You left something within the dog’s reach. React calmly and be more careful.

So then, how do you get what your dog has?

In the next blog, find out how to teach your dog to trade objects in her mouth for treats, toys, or something she considers more valuable—no yelling, chasing, or grabbing needed!


NEXT WEEK: Teaching Your Dog How to Trade

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About Val

Val Hughes has been training dogs and their people in the Spokane area since 1980. In 1990, she started her own business, The Family Dog, which offered dog owner counseling and training classes in three locations around the area. Val's golden retriever Jack, certified as a Delta Pet Partner, was one of the first two dogs in the pilot program for pet-assisted therapy visits at local hospitals. Val trained hearing dogs for five years through Pacific Northwest Hearing Dogs. Her own dogs have appeared in print, TV, and billboard advertising, in two movies, and in many local stage productions for Spokane Children's Theatre, Spokane Civic Theatre, Spokane Falls Community College, and Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre. Her dog Teasel recently appeared as Chowsie in Gypsy at Spokane Civic Theatre. As editor of the professional journal of the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors, Inc., Val won three Maxwell Awards from the Dog Writers Association Of America.

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