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The Root of the Behavior
Golden Retrievers, Papillons, Yorkshire Terriers, and gun dogs bred to find, carry, and retrieve objects seem to be more prone to grab and run. It is seemingly in their nature to have an object in their mouths. If you have a grown dog that is grabbing and running, he may be doing so for several reasons. Grabbing objects to chew is most likely about needing to chew and get out nervous energy. Breeds that need a lot of activity and mental stimulation, such as Border Collies and German-Shorthaired Pointers, may turn to thievery in an effort to get out nervous energy. If your dog is spending a lot of time confined to the house or boring yard, he may be stealing in an effort to shake up his life. Objects that belong to you and smell like you, such as socks and underwear, are a common item stolen by dogs and it is usually about wanting to be around you. Very few dogs will go without stealing food at some point, and it is more about craving than hunger. Regardless of his reason for stealing, the act itself is almost always self-rewarding. When he steals, he gets stimulated, comforted, fed, and chased. He is winning. Dogs have learned to flee after a grab because you most likely chased them to retrieve the object. Your dog does not see items as ‘yours and mine,' he just simply sees what he wants and takes it. If you chase him, he thinks it is a game of chase and keep-away. It is the fun game and attention that he loves, and now he knows another way to engage you.
Encouraging the Behavior
Training your dog to ‘leave it’ can be helpful in that as he approaches an object he may want to take, telling him to ‘leave it’ indicates it is not for him. It is also a way to have food out and feel confident he will not steal it. Some trainers recommend teaching your dog to ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ in one area outside of the kitchen and dining areas during meal preparation and meal times so that he is not tempted or in the area to steal food. Making sure he is not ravenous at meal times is another way to limit his desire to steal food. By providing time-released snacks as part of a toy is a great way to stimulate and feed him at the same time. Owners have found it useful to put food in a Kong, freeze it, and then leave it for their dog to play with and munch on throughout the day.
Possibly the worst thing to do when your dog steals is to run after him. This only encourages his behavior. Trainers recommend ignoring him, running away from him, or calmly offering a trade with a high reward treat while giving the command the ‘leave it.' Most dogs can only hold one object in their mouth at time so showing a high reward treat and throwing it away from the dog often prompts him to drop the stolen object and pursue the treat, thus giving you time and space to retrieve your item.