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Prevent scavenging and stealing problems before they start

Stop! Thief!

Stealing objects is really fun for puppies when we join in the game. Puppies absolutely love being chased (watch them play with each other) and if stealing a tissue (even occasionally) results in a riotous game, then you better lock up your tissues, cause they’re gonna get got!

So, what to do? Well, the first line of defense is PREVENTION. Puppy-proof the best you can. Less for puppy to steal means less for you to not chase. And, don’t play chase games with his legal toys, either. Never chase puppy. Never ever!

Teach and practice leave it. For low to moderately valuable items, this may work before he gets his jaws around the goods. Teach and practice bring it. And by practice, we mean heavily reward puppy for bringing you things and relinquishing them (including giving them back when you can). If puppy is paid well for bringing you stuff instead of running away with it, that’s what he will do. It’s not a bad problem to have.

If you must get the item from puppy (due to safety or value) and you have not yet trained bring it, try to distract him. You can grab treats or a favorite toy and make them look super interesting. If that doesn’t get his attention us an extra tasty treat to trade him for the item.

Think feed & lead. The first treat should get him to drop the item. Then, use the rest of the treats to lead him out of the room and close the door. Retrieve the item yourself later, and remember to be more careful in the future. Go back and review your prevention plan, your leave it, and your bring it.

The puppy in the video is not very interested in the paper towel, so it is not a fair demonstration. However, the trainer shows how you can redirect the puppy to something else without triggering a keep-away game or resource guarding by focusing on the new item of interest and not on competition for the stolen item.

In an emergency, you may have to swiftly grab your puppy and take something out of his mouth. An example might be that he has found a chicken bone, a bottle of pills, or a winning lottery ticket. If that happens, don’t hesitate: just do it. It’s not ideal, but might be necessary. This is an emergency, and you need to be successful, quickly. Don’t let puppy struggle. Hold him confidently and pry his mouth open. Sweep your finger firmly but gently behind the item and pop it out of his mouth. Keep a hold of puppy, don’t let him grab it again!

This is not ideal, and may frighten puppy – but it is better than the alternative. Don’t let your commitment to gentle handling paralyze you in a true emergency. There will be time to repair any potential damage to your relationship later.

Trash Raiding

Dogs are natural scavengers. Puppy will explore his environment to discover tasty treats and entertainment. Trash cans are extremely tempting to puppy, and it only takes finding a piece of meat or bread just once or twice to create a committed trash raider.

Solution? PREVENTION. Purchase a trash can that is unraidable. Or, keep it under the since. Prevent puppy from developing a bad habit now, and your leave it training will be easier later.

Counter Surfing

See trash raiding above. Another natural behavior that you should work diligently to prevent being rewarded. Supervise or confine puppy, make sure you can reach tasty counter items more quickly than puppy, and don’t trust puppy to make good choices in your absence. After all, he’s only canine! Once you have practiced your leave it and puppy has been reinforced for ignoring your valuable dinner rolls many times, he will be trustworthy in your presence. But be advised: some of the best and nicest dogs are not trustworthy alone around meat left out. It may be simpler to adjust your expectations than to train for and expect this level of reliability.


Dogs do what works. If puppy looks at you with those big sad eyes at the table and you give in and slip him a piece of chicken, then you will get an increase in big-sad-eye behavior at the table in the future.

Solution? DON’T REINFORCE. If you don’t want puppy to sit and stare at you while you are eating, then make sure that he is never rewarded for doing so.

Also, TRAIN AN ALTERNATE BEHAVIOR. Where would you like puppy to be while you eat? If you would like him to lie on his mat, then make it worth his while to be there. Make him a tasty Kong and ask him to go to his mat. If he is staying there quietly for meals, don’t ignore him, occasionally get up and reward him on his mat. Make it a place he loves to be. Eventually he’s learn to go to where the good stuff is.