Keep Away; Why it is the Best and Worst Game to Play with Your Dog!

Kitchen pilferersAhhhh 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!

dog stealing shoe - four month old bulldog puppy

dog stealing shoe - four month old bulldog puppy

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.

Dog training (obedience): command: sit at heelI 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??

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  1. Joe Kennel says:

    i have two terrier dogs one named snow another one bella. i want you help me teach them obedience and they are six months old please help


  2. Sharon krznar says:

    Please help Me to get you training topics I wanted to get it when u had it for $37.77 but I had to wait for my check to come before I could get it at that price. And now my check came but I don’t have the $69.95 to pay for it now. Please help me to train my baby for the $37.77 and not the $69.95. She needs to be trained but I don’t have the $69.95 now but I can pay the $37.77 if you’ll let me . Please help me to train my baby now. Please help me! I love her so much but she needs trained!!!


    Minette Reply:

    email Dana at and she will be able to help you


  3. Sharon krznar says:

    Dana, can you help me with the comment I left last night? Please help me in any way you can to get the puppy training program for $37.77 instead of $69.95 since I really planned on getting it but being on a fixed income I had figured the $37.77 into my monthly check but won’t be able to get it for the $69.95 now Minette replied that you might be able to help me. Please if you can help me in any way you can to help me get it for the $37.77 I would appreciate any help you can help me with. Thanking you in advance, Sharon.


  4. Loretta says:

    I just knew this was going to be about how I played with Rusty. I did see myself in this article. But… I have taken the clicker training course and it must have been included in it somewhere! My little guy loves stealing socks. Same story you had. But when caught he would rather try to swallow them than let go. He got close on a nylon footie once and things had to change. My hubby started taking him to the fridge for an exchange of an awesome treat and I found it eas exactly like you said, a crazy game HE was in charge of. I started ignoring him and a while later after he gave up a layed down I began stealing his toys and acting silly with him. We play tug, find me, find you and each get a great workout. On MY terms. I don’t leave tempting socks laying around but if he does find one I am happy to pay him no mind at all.


  5. Bebe says:

    It’s ruddy annoying to have to keep everything out of reach of a Leonberger, and not always easy to remember. I have taught him to retrieve, and he’s very good at it with balls and frisbees, but he knows perfectly well when he’s got something he shouldn’t have and is deaf to all commands. The only answer is to turn your back on him, and if he still doesn’t put it down, get a bit of cheese.


  6. Tricia Gaitan says:

    Hello Minette! This was a great article! I agree completely that having you dog on a leash in the house is good for training! I have Stu on a leash at home pretty often for training purposes. It really helps!

    Thanks again Minette!


    Minette Reply:

    Thank you 🙂


  7. debi says:

    My dog is a monster at this!!!!!! Thanks for helping
    me understand ! Debi


  8. Karen says:

    I taught my dog when he was a pup that, if he picks something up, bring it me ad he will get a reward.


    Minette Reply:

    Excellent! As do I!


  9. Suzanne says:

    My Sch-Tzu, Bella, gets VERY excited when guests come over. She’s over come with happiness.. However, during this state of excitement she jumps on visitors. Not everyone appreciates this behavior. To try to re-direct her away from guests, I give her a treat. Yes, she has me trained. What do I do now?


    Minette Reply:

    Put her on a leash and teach her what you expect of her when people come over


  10. Hannah says:

    My poppy is 6 months old. He is Vizsla and the most energetic breed. Nothing can worn him out. He is very, very playful all the time, days or nights. Being a Vizsla it means nobody can outsmart them. They are crazy smart. Everything was Vizsla rules until I took a small spray bottle with a just top water. He hates to be spray with it. Now I even can make him go to the bath or shower just do not spray me with a mist. It works 100 %. . House leash works good to.


    Minette Reply:

    although this can work, I prefer more positive and less conflicted ways of training whenever possible


  11. Asma says:

    My GSD plays like this with her own football. I throw the ball far away, she brings it back but instead of bringing it back to me, she runs around with me chasing her until she lets me catch her and then wants me to throw the ball again. She has invented this game and does not steal anything from the house.


  12. Melanie says:

    I really don’t understand your “keep away” exercise. Yanking away and then, as I understood, hiding the toy out of site, does what? “Builds drive?” I thought the point was to make the dog stay away from items he’s not supposed to have. I really need help with teaching my dog to “leave it” without going to get a piece of cheese.


    Minette Reply:

    When it is on MY terms, keep away is a wonderful thing and yes builds drive read this

    and you can use the search bar to find articles on leave it


  13. Donna says:

    My dog (Aussie 1yr 1mo) barks a lot, then nips at other dogs like he wants to herd them (he has never had any training to herd)…I want to learn to train him to herd horses and hang with me…..I worry about a possible dog bite to another dog from him…any suggestions would be appreciated…..Thank You


    Minette Reply:

    Dogs don’t “herd” horses. Horses kick and can kill dogs that try and nip. Herding is for cattle and sheep. the dog needs to be taught obedience around other dogs and not allowed to do this; again this could result in serious injury if he does it to the wrong dog.


  14. J. Albritton says:

    I’m looking into training my own seizure dog, how would I train one to bring me things like tv remote, cell phone, ECT with out thinking it’s a game?

    J. Albritton


    Minette Reply:

    Some dogs become very aggressive when people have seizures; it is that survival of the fittest instinct. I would not recommend the risk. Instead I would find a good organization or several and be put on the waiting list.


  15. Brooklan says:

    I have a chocolate lab that Is one year old and he is quite big for his age so he can reach up on tables and grab things but I have a shock collar for him so every time he does so I beep him and sometimes even shock him but it doesn’t even hurt him and it’s on the highest setting so he won’t learn like that. But when he has an item i dont want him to have he runs to the coffee table and plays keep away and he has such a strong jaw that my item is nearly ruined when I get it back like shoes or coasters or clothes and socks he has alot of toys like the big rubber KONG and he has a lot of bones But he never seems to listen he even does it out side with his leash and it is so hard to get him inside so I have to Chase him and pick him up and im exhausted cause he weighs like 80lbs!! What do I do?


    Minette Reply:

    Just another reason not to use a shock collar and why shock collars don’t work. He needs a leash and to be taught what your expectations of him are


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