Features January 2011 Issue

5 Things to Do the Next Time Your Dog Grabs Your Stuff and Runs

Does your dog enjoy stealing you belongings and making a dash? We have a few suggestions for getting your belongings back quickly.

[Updated July 19, 2017]

Your dog grabs your stuff and runs away either because she knows you’re going to take it from her and she doesn’t want you to, or she’s inviting you to join in her a fun game of “Catch me if you can.” In either case, chasing after her is usually the least effective way to get your stuff back. Besides the obvious “management, to prevent her access to your stuff,” and “exercise (mental and physical) to keep her happily otherwise occupied,” here are five suggestions that will maximize your chances of getting your precious thing(s) back quickly, relatively unscathed.

When your dog steals something, try these tricks:

Puppy Training

The look that says, “I’ve got something you want... What are you going to do about it?”

1. Run the other way

Really. Chasing after your dog almost guarantees she will run away. If her motivation for stuff-grabbing is to get you to play, she may be just as happy to chase you. Let her chase you into a reasonably small space, close the door, and then employ Suggestion #3, 4, or 5 to convince her to give you your stuff back. (If her motivation is to get and keep stuff rather than get you to chase after her to play, this one probably won’t work. Go on to Suggestion #2.)

2. Quietly follow your dog

If your dog wants to keep your stuff rather than play with you, any noise and fury on your part will cement her intentions and make it infinitely harder to get the thing away from her. You risk triggering aggression in a dog who already guards, or teaching it to one who doesn’t yet. Be calm and cheerful. I know; it’s hard to be calm and cheerful when your dog has your valuable heirloom keepsake. Do it anyway. When the opportunity presents itself, engage in Suggestion #3 or 5, but carefully. Suggestion #4 may work, but is less successful when your dog’s motivation is keeping rather than playing. Because the dog in this scenario is likely to be guardy, any pressure on your part may cause her to hold onto the item more intensely, or even bite you. Don’t corner or trap her; that could increase the risk of aggression. If she takes the item into her crate, do not reach in to get it until you have successfully negotiated her out of her crate.

3. Trade for treats

Now that she’s not running away, your best chance at getting your thing back unshredded is to have your dog give it up willingly. If you try to grab it you’re likely to end up in a game of tug, and your stuff will suffer. To trade, simply convince your dog to drop your thing in exchange for something irresistible. Every room in my house has a container full of “something wonderfuls” just in case I need them. My favorites (and my dogs’) is Canz “Real Meat Treats.” I get them from dogcatsupply.com. They are top quality ingredients, moist and meaty, and need not be refrigerated.

If your dog won’t trade for a treat in your hand, drop some treats on the ground. When your things are safely back in your own possession, vow to train your dog to give up objects happily on cue.

4. Throw a toy for your dog fetch

If your dog is more into tennis balls or plush toys than treats, engage her in play with her toy to get her to let go of yours. Keep at least one very favorite toy on a shelf in every room. The sound of her squeaky toy, or the mere sight of her beloved ball or tug rope, is usually enough for a toy-fanatic to drop your possession so she can go after hers. After all, she just wanted to play in the first place. Be sure to play for a while, so she doesn’t get wise to your scheme.

5. Use diversion tactics

What else does your dog love to do? Go for a walk? Ride in the car? Eat dinner? Get the squirrel? If you have stock phrases you use with your dog that will trigger an immediate, wildly enthusiastic response, try one of those (you have to sound genuine!) to see if you can get her brain to switch gears. At the sound of an excited “Get in the car!” she may well drop your thing and head for the door. Of course, then you are obligated to take her for a ride. If you lie to your dog, sooner or later your karma will come back to bite you!

Pat Miller, CPDT-KA, CDBC, is WDJ’s Training Editor. Miller lives in Fairplay, Maryland, site of her Peaceable Paws training center. Pat is also author of several books on positive training.

Comments (6)

These are all great suggestions.... unless the culprit in question is a spoiled rotten 2 lb 13 oz chihuahua that fits under every single piece of furniture & could better Usain Bolts sprint times! Asha Cree only steals something when she's upset w/ us for something. She's not guardy or aggressive but she is persistent & willful & not tempted by any diversionary tactics. Sigh.... #WelcomeToMyWorld 🙄

Posted by: ChiMama | July 25, 2017 9:54 AM    Report this comment

I've tried some of these techniques...but I have one smart pup...she is capable of grabbing the treats and racing back to the object before I can grab it! She can also manage to keep both toys or items within her space/reach/mouth. She also is quite adept and taking an entire bathrobe and bunching it up in her mouth in such a way as to make it more compact and easier to carry! But she succeeds in making her mom laugh!

Posted by: robin r | March 13, 2014 11:18 PM    Report this comment

My dog loves the grab and chase game, so do I. Instead of not playing this fantastic game, we've established rules that the humans and canine agree to. I keep a pile of mail that needs to be shredded and agree to give chase anytime my dog takes something from that pile. Should he choose to grab something else (because all the shredding is done) he knows that "drop it" will be rewarded with me finding a very "important" piece of paper that I will dramatically fawn over and then "accidentally" drop and the game of chase can happen. I find because I've established these rules that allow my dog to play "grab and run" at his request that his "drop it" is 100%. Plus I think that my dog gets to feel like he has some autonomy. Also, I haven't shredded a thing in the last two year (bonus!)

Posted by: Archi D | June 20, 2013 1:57 PM    Report this comment

Unfortunately for us trading for treats has created a monster. Marvin now searches for things to trade so he can get a treat. He has learned to look for the highest valued trade objects and to not take things which are of little to no value.

Posted by: Furrykids | October 23, 2012 4:51 PM    Report this comment

The dogs are being reinforced by successfully stealing food (or having it be given to them by the kids). And chase is also positively reinforcing for pointers, lets face it! You need to avoid any opportunity for success on their part. i suggest you simply baby gate the dogs away from the kids while the kids are eating. Pick up the food when the kids are done, before you let the dogs out of the gated area. I don't have kids, but that is how I handle mealtime with 4 cats, 1 slow eating dog and one piggy dog.

Posted by: rosekirwin | May 26, 2011 7:46 PM    Report this comment

This article doesn't seem to address my problem--stealing food! I am working on a 'go settle at your spot' with my two pointers, but since I have a 3 and 5 year old, who are very generous with crumbs, as well as having a tendency to wander off and leaving food on their conveniently dog-height table, stealing food from my kids has been VERY well reinforced. I've tried tying them to the table during meal times, I've given my kids a spray bottle, but mostly resort to yelling and chasing around, which make for very chaotic meals! :( Any suggestions? The biggest problem is that they will actually grab food out of my kids' hands!

Posted by: Seana P | January 6, 2011 11:41 AM    Report this comment

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