Stealing things can be very rewarding for a dog. Most dogs love to put anything and everything in their mouths. Many dogs also love to chase and be chased, and nothing gets that started quite like stealing an iPhone or half of a pair of Uggs!
We train two behaviors to help with dogs stealing things. “Give” or “Release” is for getting your dog to drop something. “Leave it” is for getting him to not pick it up in the first place.
We train “Leave it” by training a dog to avoid things. Avoiding means not even looking at an item, let alone trying to take it. The complete behavior is “turn away from what you are currently looking at and look at me”
Training starts with treats and is then generalized to other things. When fully mastered you can tell your dog to leave anything, including other dogs and people
This video shows the initial training:
You can see three steps with Jewels, an exceptionally smart puppy:
- Marking and rewarding not lunging at or trying to taking a treat from my closed hand
- Then my open hand.
- Finally from the floor.
The initial training really does take only a few minutes (the edits are because of a shaky camera, not time), and you do want to try to get the “leave it treat” to the floor very quickly. It was very fast with Jewels, but most dogs shouldn’t take more than 3 or 4 minutes.
Each time Jewels stops trying to get the treat (she does a great sit or down when she does – not all dogs do that) I mark the moment with “Yes!”
During the “open hand” part, timing with the “Yes” is critical. Your dog may only stop trying to get the treat for an instant and a “Yes” during that moment really helps convey what you are trying to teach her.
After you gain a high level of proficiency on the floor, the next step is to delay the “Yes” until you get solid eye contact from your dog. From there, you can start to practice on other items, first inside and then outside in the presence of distractions.