Teaching Your Thief How to Retrieve

I am in a fairly new relationship.  I have never had the joys of having children of my own and so raising a puppy was always a fairly easy task for me, after all I am a professional  ha ha.  I have never dealt with someone giving the wrong commands at the wrong time, or reinforcing bad behavior, so I was dismayed the other day when my pup grabbed a piece of nasty trash and as soon as I noticed she playfully bucked and bowed and frolicked in the opposite direction.  Calling her sent her bounding in the opposite direction tossing her prize into the air and daring me to chase her.  “Ahhh” I thought, “Someone has been chasing her when she has confiscated a naughty item”.   My new family are not yet professional dog trainers!

The Grab And Chase Game has to be, hands down one of a dog’s favorite pastimes.  This interactive game requires a partner, who is often quite animated and angry and who haughtily chases the thief around and around the house.  Most often the dog is enjoying every angry moment and expletive as they spryly dance throughout owner’s legs and dash by, gaining grace and distance with every well timed movement as their owner crashes into furniture and throws themselves toward the walls and floor in an attempt to catch the robber.

Your dog is having the absolute time of his life, and because he does not have the ability to reason, he doesn’t really realize at some point he is going to slow down or give up and give you the upper hand.  This is normally when punishment arises and enters the equation.  Dogs don’t understand punishment, they go from having a great time to being toss around, yelled at, or worse kicked, beaten or abused.  Typically, no matter what the punishment and because it arises “AFTER” the deed is done it does not diminish your dogs excitement at the prospect of doing it again.

Often the item is swallowed, or ruined before the owner has the opportunity to take it from their pet and so the anger is magnified by the frustration.

So, what do you do then when Scruffy grabs your underwear and begins to dash through the house?  I use doggy psychology to my advantage.  I have two options that will work to MY advantage:

  • Prevention: I make sure I NEVER leave any object out that he may get a hold of that he shouldn’t have  (I do recommend this for high priced items.  You will never see my $500 sun glasses on or near the floor) or I keep him on a leash so that I can pluck the item out right away, extinguishing the ability he has to run and be chased.   This is not always realistic.


  • Reward: I praise him and go get him a treat as exchange for my underpants.

Trust me the look on his face will be just as confused as the look on your faces now at reading this or on my clients faces when I recommend the same feat.  Yes!!! Praise and reward!!!  This also keeps you from playing the run and chase and frustration game.  Instead of being rewarded by the “Best Game Ever” (remember that for him chasing him and interacting with him IS a reward), he is rewarded for showing you and bringing it to you.

Reverse psychology, if you will, instead of chasing him when a bad situation arises; reward him for doing the right thing and bringing it to you.

Please, keep your expensive and dangerous things locked up so that a deadly situation does not occur.  But when faced with this situation, give up and give in and let your dog know if he has something and brings it to you instead of running there is a reward in it for him.

Won’t this “create a monster” out of your dog?  That is the most frequent question I get after the look of shock and horror goes away.  People are afraid that this will create a criminal and reward bad behavior.  Yes, to some degree you will watch the behavior escalate but if you know some key learning and behavior principles you can get the behavior you want.

At first, you will see your dog grabbing objects and bringing them to you for reward.  Just this morning my puppy spit a dime at me while I was getting my soon to be step-son ready for school, and yes I rewarded her for it.  Once she begins to realize that the game is bringing me the object, then I can determine if I like the behavior or not.

Personally, I like dogs that retrieve.  I have raised, trained and work with Service Dogs for people with disabilities for most of my career and I like having a dog that picks up the things I drop, heaven forbid I have to bend over and pick something up!  It is a skill I relish in and enjoy.  My dogs can retrieve anything from as small as a paper clip to as large as an over turned wheel-chair.

Once the behavior is consistent, (no more dart and dash) I either choose to continue to reinforce it with praise and rewards and then ask for it on command, or I never reward the behavior again and wait for the behavior to extinguish.

You see, dogs are just as shallow as we humans are if at first they are paid for a behavior but then never receive payment for that behavior again, they refuse to show it anymore.  Imagine your job decided to quit paying you, with no payout you would probably never go back there again.  However, if they increase your pay, reward you with onsite education, frequent bonuses and treat you with kindness and praise, you will probably be a happy employee for life.

If you don’t want to see this behavior continue, never reward it with anything but half-hearted praise again.  You will quickly see a decline in the thieving.

If you are like me, lazy, and like to have a dog around that retrieves on command then give it a command and start requiring more and more until you have a polished retrieve (more on this later).

Your dog is simple; even negative emotions and behavior elicited from you can be rewarding.  Use the knowledge of reverse psychology to your benefit.  It is a lot easier than chasing your dog out of frustration!

I love a dog that retrieves

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  1. john says:

    I do like the grab and chase game, Great Suggestions and Tips.


  2. ValsNewPuppy says:

    I think your comparison of dogs behavior to that of a human and their job is excellent. I never thought of it in that way but it seems right on target. I really enjoyed this article.
    .-= ValsNewPuppy´s last blog ..Puppy Feeding Plays a Big Roll in Development =-.


  3. Julie says:

    strange that,I started doing this with my 9 month old pup,just a few weeks ago,after having him chew holes in clothes as he ran off with them all the time. I could not get him to play fetch either, even though my other dog loves to play. He was the smallest of his litter and was basicly bottle fed and cuddled by the breeder. I thought perhaps he didnt have enough crucial time with his mum and litter mates at a young age.He is rough and grabs my bigger dog to get things away from him.He just lets him to it.So apart from trying to put all things away ( he is a big boy at 50 lbs) as he can reach rather well.He did start looking for things to bring, but as you did I gradually stopped reinforcing it. The extra I got from all that is that he will now go get a ball and bring it back. Not always but sometimes. I was looking for ways to engage him with play,as he only ever played chase,and didnt seem to get the whole play thing ( he was 12 weeks when I got him.Wondered what your take on this is- the lack of play. Give hin a puzzle toy and he will eat his way through it.


    James Reply:

    I got this dog from the rescue & she likes to retrieve but soon refuses to come back to me? And wants to play tag!( she is faster than I am).


  4. Erin says:

    Hello, I have a English Bulldog and he loves the grab and chase game. The bad thing is he doesn’t want to give anything up. He buries his prize under his belly and growes if you try and take it away. If its a blanket he will hang on for dear life and won’t give in. He takes TV remotes, blankets, phones! Anything that won’t eat him he thinks is fair game. I have called him to say there is a treat waiting on him and he usually leaves the item in the kennel and comes running. I tell him “good boy” and don’t reward him with treats. I have to run to his kennel and grab what he has taken before he beats me to it. It amazes me how sweet he is until he gets ahold of something. He becomes aggressive and won’t release. He comes if he wants to and listens when hes in the mood. Any suggestions?
    Thank you!!


    Minette Reply:

    We are doing a new series on aggression and possession aggression is one of the things we cover, I would look into that.

    Ask customer service about when it will be released at info@thedogtrainingsecret.com


  5. Christina Stockinger says:


    your are great! I read your articles regularly and am pleased to learn so much from you. This article opened my eyes for the mistakes I comitted, for example running after one of my pitbulls, (when she didn’t come, when called to swim). I tried to convince her with a treat and chased her, although I knew that she is faster and that there are regions in the garden, where it impossible to fetch her. But now, finally, I realized, that this is not simply a disobeying, stubborn beast, no, she was totally enjoying, what she took for a game. And I was so silly, not to realize it myself. Thank’s a lot for all your tips!



    Minette Reply:

    I am glad you enjoy my writing Christina 🙂 it is nice to know people are reading and learning 🙂


  6. Susan says:

    I loved this article, as I have a 5 month old Golden Doodle who loves my underwear, socks and shoes and especially the mad dash after. I cannot wait to try your reward method.


  7. Mary Walshe says:

    Loved this blog. I am at the moment trying to train my own service dog as I have MS and use a wheelchair. She is a flat coated retriever and is very intuitive to my needs even though she is still just a puppy of 8 months. She doesnt however seem to know she is a retriever and I will have to find some way of encouraging her to retrieve before she can pick things up for me. She doesnt do the chasing game so I cant use the reverse paychology. In fact she is very sedate and slow moving around me and rarely leaves my side. She has started to help me balance when rising from the wheelchair and she has learned to go forward and do a right turn while pulling the wheelchair though as she is so young I dont allow her to pull any of the weight yet ( its like a pretend pull with me being pushed from behind) until she gets older and her muscles and bones are more mature. Nobody in Ireland (as far as I know )trains service dogs for MS disabled so Its just me and Maizy the flat coated retriever and a whole lot of trial and error but we are getting there and I am really pleased with her progress to date


  8. Cathy says:

    You don’t explain how to initiate the pick up and deliver by the dog. If you starting with a 5 yr old, how do you get him to pick up anything and bring it to you.


    Minette Reply:

    If your dog is already stealing things (what the article revolves around) then he is already picking things up, then you exchange what is stolen for a treat.


  9. Jaymie Derden says:

    We have an 18-month old labradoodle who has a pillow fetish. He LOVES to steal pillows and play the chase game. We’ve lived without pillows now for 4 months, trying to extinguish the behavior — no luck. I’m going to try this and see if it will help. I”d love to train him to put his toys away and love the idea of him bringing dropped items to me. Maybe we can turn this little behavior challenge around after all.


  10. Teresa says:

    Hi, I have a 5 month old Golden Retreiver,
    Who is aggressively biting my both my daughter
    and me. Especially when she is excited after
    Playing. When my daughter comes home from
    Work, she is so happy to see her, but then she
    will start attacking her.
    Last night she tore her slacks.
    We are besides our selves, we had had
    Two trainers come to the house and took
    Her to puppy class.
    We need help


    Minette Reply:

    You need a veterinary behaviorist. You use words like attack, and I can’t see the dog so I don’t know if it is normal puppy mouthing just out of hand, or if the dog is going to hospitalize youhttp://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/recommend-veterinary-behaviorist-dog-trainer/r daughter. Read this and find a vet behaviorist.


    Teresa Reply:

    Thank you Minette,


  11. Kim Reilly says:

    I learned this mainly through experience with my rescued Aussie who steals everything he can get his mouth on, from onions to pens. However, I noticed when I didn’t make a big deal of his stealing, he just dropped the item on the carpet and walked away. Game over!


  12. Aurora says:

    I love this idea. My dog already plays fetch pretty well and he hasnt started that “Catch me if you can” game when he picks things up. He is very good at “Drop it” when he has something I dont want him to have. How to a take it the next step in teaching him to do it on comand? Or even Better how would I go about teaching him to pick up his toys and but them all in the same box?


    Minette Reply:

    Reward him for picking things up, and soon you will be able to ask him to do it for you.


  13. wendy says:

    My very active 7 year old Jack Russell will not take anything.
    How do I encourage him to pick up something and bring it to me?


  14. Sharon Skibo says:

    My 6 month old yellow lab loves to
    “Grab and go” and we see that he loves the chase. We go get the reward, but what he does is drops the item where he is at (most of the time in the middle of the year), then comes to get the reward. How do we get him to bring it to us?Half the time when we go out to get the item Where he has dropped it, he will beat us to it and the whole senario repeats itself. Help!


    Minette Reply:

    First you have to reward the drop, then you have to teach the dog to bring it.

    Why are you not bringing the dog in after the drop?


  15. Debbie word says:

    Deb from Ala.

    My dog will steal and eat anything . He goes to a corner and dares you to get it,and turns into a devil dog.after you manage to get it, he’s all loving and fine then.so I’m puzzled.HELP


    Minette Reply:

    take away the conflict, change the dog


  16. Minette says:

    stop giving treats unless you ask her to retrieve


  17. Jane Sheehan says:

    My jack Russell loved the steal and chase game. I figured out that if I went to the refrigerator and opened the meat/cheese drawer saying in a very calm, sweet voice, come to Mama, Dougie, he would come with the object in his mouth. I did not give him the tiny piece of cheese(his favorite treat) until he dropped it. Then I picked it up first and gave him the treat. After he learned that, if he did not bring the object, I again called him, got the cheese out of the refrigerator, gave him the treat for coming, kept some cheese in my hand while I walked to where he had left the stolen object, picked it up and rewarded him again. Eventually I did not have to reward him for coming,just for letting me pick it up. It took some patience but the main thing was making a game of it for him and not getting angry.


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