Keep Away; Why it is the Best and Worst Game to Play with Your Dog!
Ahhhh good ol’ “Keep Away”! I have a Love/Hate relationship with this game!
The problem is that it needs to be on MY terms!
I am the leader of the house hold, and I dictate games and when they can be played.
I used to have a long haired Malinois who I would allow to engage me in this game each morning around shower time.
He would “pretend” to steal a sock that I had “left out” and he would bring it over to me and show me; and then he would bounce and pounce and play bow as if to say “chase me”!
He came fairly early in my training career and I indulged him play this game.
The truth is that he wasn’t “stealing” my things and then keeping them away from me, I always left the socks out for him to "steal".
It was fun, and it was very controlled. He only ever played with my socks, and it was always first thing in the morning, AND he would drop anything I asked on command.
So I would stomp and chase behind him, pretending to swipe at the sock in his mouth while letting him run around and expel some energy.
He loved it and we played this game up until his last few months of life.
But, honestly most people don’t knowingly play this game like this, most dogs seriously steal things and don’t want to give them up!
But the premise is the same, keep away is FUN FUN FUN for your dog!
Why I Hate Keep Away
I hate keep away when it is under the dog’s control!
How many of you have had, or known dogs that steal items and then run around the house keeping them away from their owner?
MANY, many dogs do this!
Because it is fun for the dog, and it is almost 100% guaranteed to spark the game they desire.
Imagine your dog bounds into the room with your wallet in his mouth, or your glasses.
Are you going to ignore him, because you don’t want to reward him by chasing him around for the next 30 minutes trying to tight end tackle him as he jumps over your sofa?
Chances are you are going to chase him to get back the thing that is important to you!
And, let’s face it, chasing him is FUN, fun, fun!
Even if you are livid and shouting commands and obscenities, chances are your dog is having the time of his life!
How to Avoid This Game
So if you find yourself slightly depicted in the story above, it is best to avoid this game completely, just because it is so fun and rewarding!
Put your things away!
Don’t want him to steal your wallet, your laptop, your IPOD your glasses; then put them up and out of his reach in the beginning.
Does that mean you will never be able to leave your glasses on the table? No! but in the beginning we must teach him and set him up for success.
Put him on a leash.
When I have a dog that is constantly stealing items, I put them on a leash so that I can teach them. Even it is just a first in the morning or late evening behavior, you can click a leash on for that time.
If I don’t have a leash, I might be forced to chase or feel like I need to chase.
A leash allows me to keep him from stealing.
And, if he should snatch something he shouldn’t have I can quickly put my foot or hand on the dragging leash and keep him from running away.
You see, snatching isn’t fun in and of itself, it is the running around being chased that is the fun game!
If you just step on his leash and take the item out of his mouth, it takes the wind out of his sails.
He learns that stealing isn’t rewarding after all!
And, work on obedience.
I find when a dog is on a leash in my home it is hard NOT to teach them manners and obedience.
Who among us would allow their dog to steal their money or wallet if he was on a leash next to you? Who would allow him to jump on the counter, chase the cat or eat out of the cat box? Leashes in the house are a wonderful thing and so simple until the good behavior is a habit.
But even if the dog is off leash most of the time obedience gives you the ability to tell him to sit, or down, or come, or drop the item.
If you work on obedience daily, listening to your commands becomes your dog’s default! Wouldn’t it be nice if your dog just listened to you immediately?
That is what happens if you truly work on obedience every day!
On a side note; I also teach a thieving dog to retrieve. Again, if I reward you for bringing me the things that you find... you won't be running off to chew on them by yourself!
For more on rewarding the behavior read this Teach your Thief How to Retrieve
Why I Love Keep Away
And, finally, I do actually love keep away, when it is on my terms.
I must admit, I don’t play the grab and chase my dog game with any of my other dogs. It doesn’t typically develop good default behavior.
But I do play keep away with my dogs.
I dangle toys in front of them, and then yank them away at the last moment.
Although this sounds mean, at first, it actually isn’t.
To a dog, this yanking away and making the toy hard to get is exciting!
Playing keep away (within reason) with your dog builds some drive.
However the dog must be rewarded often.
I have seen children play this game, but the dog never, ever gets rewarded, and if he does grab the toy it is swiftly taken away.
Playing it in that fashion isn’t fair!
And, some dogs would become angry or over stimulated and bite children for this type of behavior so be very careful.
I play keep away with MY dogs but I don’t allow anyone else to, unless I am willing for them to lose a finger (and I am not)!
The dog needs to be rewarded often to make it exciting and fun. As your training develops you can then just integrate obedience into this skill and require the dog to sit or lay down or heel or give you eye contact and focus in order to be rewarded!
For more on teasing your dog to build drive, read this article Is Teasing Really THAT Bad?? A Lesson in Building Excitement.
All in all, I like keep away as long as it is on my terms, and it gives me happy dogs with amazingly animated obedience!
Plus it is great exercise!
How many of you have thieves at home??
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.