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 have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.