I was over in Gainesville last Wednesday working with a new Home Dog Training client and his eleven-month-old Beagle named Barron. Although Barron had multiple issues that were on my client’s to-do list, the most pressing problem centered around Barron’s propensity to charge the door and then run out every time someone rang the doorbell and my client tried to answer the door.
We put this issue behind us very quickly and moved on to address other behavioral issues Barron was displaying. After a few hours, Barron was demonstrating that he was now a well behaved, respectful, and focused dog. My client was very happy with the results and what he had learned.
As I was finishing up the lesson, I asked my standard, wrap-up question of “Is there anything else you can think of that we need to address today”. My client couldn’t think of anything, but his eight-year-old daughter raised her hand and said, “I have a question”.
“Barron keeps stealing all my toys when I am playing in front of the TV! I try to grab them away from him but he just takes them and runs away. I don’t like that. Can you make that stop?”
I told my client and his observant young daughter that the act of dogs “stealing” kids’ toys is very common in most families. I was highly grateful that my client’s daughter highlighted this situation because it is a learned behavior that can quickly escalate from just stealing to biting, nipping, barking, and jumping.
In order to gain more information regarding Barron’s stealing, we returned to the family room where most of the “stealing” takes place. I immediately observed that his daughter had many of her toys strewn around the floor in front of the TV. I then noticed that Barron’s dog toy basket was just off to one side, near the daughter’s toys. Barron’s toys were overflowing the basket and many of them were lying, commingling with the daughter’s toys. There were also some empty plates in the immediate vicinity that had probably contained the daughter’s now-consumed lunch or snacks.
As humans, we look at the area and can understand that there are dogs’ toys and children’s toys on the ground and scattered about. Barron, as a dog, does not make the same distinction. Barron does not categorize items through ownership and then attach specific rules based on ownership. His categorization of objects is far simpler and straightforward. Since the daughter’s toys and Barron’s toys aren’t that much different (doll with a dress vs. plush toy duck), Barron sees them as the same thing. Since we allow Barron to play with the duck, he believes that it is also ok to play with the doll.
Also, when the daughter is sitting on the floor watching TV, she has lowered her height to indicate a submissive and playful mode. Barron sees this as “an invitation” to engage with her and play. When Barron sees the doll next to the daughter, his first instinct is to grab the doll and have the daughter chase after him. Well, when he does this, the daughter gets mad because he took her doll. She will probably yell at him and then run after him to get her doll back.
Barron interprets the daughter’s action as “yes, I will play with you” and will only try harder to keep the doll away from the daughter. He is simply playing “follow the leader” and “keep away”. This is a natural behavior that all dogs have from birth, and Barron is no exception.
How can we curtail this inappropriate activity and inform Barron that the daughter’s toys are not his and “off limits”? We must create a set of situations that distinctly differentiate the toys. We must also encourage a behavior where Barron believes that his toys are better than the daughter’s toys. Here is what I suggested:
- Take all Barron’s toys out of the family room. I suggested that they place them near Barron’s bed in the kitchen. This will create a clear separation of the toys and remove any confusion based on their current commingling. It will also allow us to create simpler and more enforceable rules for Barron.
- Next, I told my client that he must do what all parents tell their children when they are finished playing with their toys. “Pick up your toys and put them away!” This will remove the immediate temptation for Barron and will allow us to establish a “don’t take stuff from here zone”. Again, this will help us to create a simpler, more consistent, and more enforceable rule for Barron.
- Place a leash on Barron. Although this was part of my “general training”, I told my client to keep a six-foot leash attached to Barron when they were in the family room and his daughter was playing with her toys. This will allow him to quickly step on the leash if he sees Barron “going for the toys”. It will cause Barron to understand that going for the toys was wrong and he better pay attention to my client when he is in the family room.
- Create a few “land mines”. Gather up some of the daughter’s unused toys and spray them with Bitter Apple. Now, place these “land mines” just outside the area where his daughter usually has her toys when she is playing with them. Now wait and see what Barron is going to do. If he goes up to them and tries to steal them, the moment he puts them in his mouth, he will be consumed with a yucky taste. This will cause him to drop them and discourage him from picking up any toys in the immediate area.
- Always provide options. As you are discouraging Barron from taking the daughter’s toys, you need to provide him with an alternative target. (“We are out of Burgundy; may I suggest a nice Merlot?”) Every time you direct Barron away from the daughter’s toys, give him one of his toys. I suggest that they are toys that are visually and physically different than the daughter’s toys. An example of this would be a deer antler that you have sprayed with some chicken broth. Once you give it to him, guide him to another part of the room. He will quickly learn that a tasty deer antler is far better than a toy doll.
- Do not play crazy with Barron when you are near the daughter’s toys. The heightened excitement of the moment increases the possibility that Barron is just going to grab one of the daughter’s toys in his mouth and run off.
- Do not allow food in the daughter’s play area if Barron is present. The aroma of food and presence of dropped crumbs enhances Barron’s food drive and the possibility of his bad behaviors.
- If at all possible, play with Barron anywhere than the family room. If you never set the scene where Barron is playing in the family room, he will quickly understand that “I don’t play here”. If Barron is always calm in the family room, it minimizes the possibility of any inappropriate behavior.
It is all about giving our dogs choices and directing them to the one we want (the “correct” one).
Please call or text us at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. You can also email us at [email protected]. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over eighteen years. We have trained over 6,000 wonderful dogs and great families and are ready to help you.