By Sherri Romig CPDT-KA
There you are quietly watching tv when Lucky comes prancing onto the room with one of your brand new shoes in his mouth. “Lucky, drop that shoe” you shout, getting up from the sofa. Instead of letting go of the shoe, Lucky drops into a play bow and then starts dashing madly around the house, shoe in mouth and tail wagging a mile a minute while you chase wildly after, shouting various threats at him, until finally, you corner the dog, grab the shoe away and tell him just what a bad boy he has been!
Sound familiar? This is a scenario that happens all too often in many homes. Fortunately, it is one that can be easily managed or even prevented with just a little bit of training. Let’s take another look at the scene from the dog’s perspective.
Lucky is bored. You are just sitting there on the sofa, paying no attention to him. He wanders around the house and discovers something new and fun to chew and brings it into the living room. When he enters the room, you get very excited and jump up. “This is great!” Lucky thinks. “This must be a wonderful toy because my person really wants it!” So, Lucky starts running off with the toy and you chase him. Suddenly, Lucky is the center of attention. What fun! There isn’t a dog alive who doesn’t love a good game of chase. When he finally gets caught, Lucky gives up the shoe. The game is over and his person is very angry and yelling at him.
How is what Lucky experienced different from what his person experienced?
First, when Lucky came into the room with a forbidden object, his person became very excited, jumping up from the sofa and chasing him throughout the house. For Lucky, this is the best thing that has happened to him all day. He is suddenly the center of attention and playing his favorite game with his favorite human. Lucky was just rewarded for stealing the shoe and running away with it.
Second, when Lucky was finally caught, the shoe was taken away and he was immediately scolded. To the person, Lucky was being scolded for stealing the forbidden object and running away with it. But the dog didn’t see it that way. To Lucky, he was being scolded for the last thing that he did. In Lucky’s mind, he was being punished for getting caught and giving up the shoe.
So, how should we handle a situation like this?
1. First, teach your dog what objects are appropriate for him to play with. You can do this by making his chew toys the center of all good attention that the dog receives. Use his toys to tease him and play with him. Grab one of his toys and run away, laughing and calling him. When he catches you, toss the toy and praise him for getting it. Tell him what a good dog he is every time you see him chewing in one if his toys.
2. Second, never chase your dog, especially when he has something that he shouldn’t. When you play games with the dog, always have him chase you. Laugh and clap and run away calling his name. Then make sure it is great fun when he catches you. (This is also a wonderful way to strengthen your dog’s recall response.)
3. Third, make sure that you teach your dog the “give” game (outlined below), and play it on a fairly regular basis. This will teach your dog that giving you an object is much more rewarding than running away with it.
4. Finally, make sure your dog is properly stimulated, both mentally and physically. In other words, play with your dog! Take him for walks, give him mentally stimulating toys (IQube, Buster Cube, etc.), play games with him (fetch, hide-and-seek, etc.) If your dog is all tuckered out from playing, when you are watching television, he will be laying at your feet instead of looking for things to do. Remember: A tired dog is a good dog!
Let’s try this again:
There you are quietly watching tv when Lucky comes prancing onto the room with one of your brand new shoes in his mouth. You calmly get up from the sofa and walk into the kitchen with Lucky at your heels. You grab a dog treat and say “Lucky, Give” Lucky drops the shoe on the floor and takes the treat. You pick up the shoe, put it out of reach and pick up a dog toy that is laying nearby. You and Lucky play fetch for a few minutes and then go back into the living room where you sit back down to watch tv and Lucky chews contentedly on his toy at your feet. Every so often, you reach down to pet Lucky and tell him what a good boy he is.
And that isn’t even best case scenario. Best case scenario:
There you are quietly watching tv when Lucky comes prancing onto the room with one of his chew toys. He is happy and tired from a long walk and game of fetch that you played together after dinner and ready to spend the evening chewing happily at your feet. Every so often, you reach down to pet Lucky and tell him what a good boy he is.
Believe it or not, all it takes is a bit of training, patience, and consistency and your dog can go from the Lucky in the first scenario to the Lucky in the last scenario.
Teaching your dog the “Give” command:
1. When your dog is chewing on a chew toy, go up to him with an especially yummy treat hidden in your hand. Take the toy out of his mouth and give him the treat. Then, immediately give him his original toy back. You want the dog to learn that if he gives you what he has, not only does he get something better in return, but he also gets his original item back. Giving you what he has is a win-win situation.
* Begin teaching this command when your dog is using a low-value chew toy that he will be fairly willing to give up. Do not begin with something very valuable, such as a bone. If your dog shows any sign of aggression when you go to take an object from him (growling, stiffening, etc.) STOP the exercise immediately and consult a professional.
2. Practice this step until your dog gets the idea and starts to give up his toy willingly. You are now ready to add the verbal command. Say “Give” just as you are taking the toy from your dog’s mouth. Ideally, he should be readily letting it go at this stage. Keep practicing until he will freely drop the toy as you give the command, ready for his treat. Remember to praise and give him his toy back as soon as he finishes his treat every time.
3. Once you have the second step down, you can begin practicing when your dog has higher value chew toys. Remember to keep the treat hidden until the dog gives up the item. You are not bribing him to give up the toy, but rewarding him for giving it to you. As the dog gets better at this game, you can begin to use treats intermittently, always remembering to praise and give him the toy back right away.
4. Once your dog really has the hang of this game, you can practice it randomly. A great way to practice is when playing fetch. Ask him to “Give” the ball for you to throw it again.
When the time comes that your dog has something he shouldn’t have, he will gladly give the item up to you. Remember in real-life situations to always trade the forbidden object for an especially tasty treat and lots of praise. Then, instead of the forbidden object, grab one of his favorite toys and initiate a fun game of fetch.