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Does your dog steal things like shoes or dirty socks? Many dogs turn into thieves when their human’s property is left unattended. Everything from remote controls to used tissue is up for grabs. And rather than losing another expensive item, you probably feel compelled to chase your dog and snatch your property back. Of course, that turns into a game of chase – an activity dogs love. Next thing you know, keep-away is an unwelcome but regular activity.

Learn how to prevent the behavior from developing in the first place and what you should do instead when your dog steals something.

Why Do Dogs Steal Things?

No doubt you’ve noticed your dog sniffs everything. That’s because dogs primarily experience the world through their sense of smell. Odor is essential to them, and objects that smell like their beloved humans are particularly coveted. So your dog will steal items you’ve worn or touched – they particularly enjoy stealing dirty laundry – even when those objects are meant to be off-limits.

However, dogs also steal things because they’ve learned that it’s fun. If you run after your dog to take something back, they quickly discover it’s an easy way to get your attention. From your dog’s perspective, you drop what you’re doing and focus on them. Not to mention, you chase them all over in an epic game of keep-away. Once your dog has figured out how to trigger this exciting game, they will start stealing all kinds of things to get you to play.

©Woraphon -

Why You Shouldn’t Chase Your Dog When They Steal Things

The items your dog is stealing likely aren’t meant to be chew toys and could pose a health hazard. For example, your dog could break a tooth by chomping on something hard. But more likely, they could tear chunks off something soft, such as the sole of a shoe, and then choke if they try to swallow one. Objects can also cause intestinal blockages if your dog eats them. Plus, many dogs will swallow forbidden objects when you try to take them away in an effort to keep their prize.

When your dog steals an object, it’s important you don’t respond with anger or threats, as it will only create additional problems. Also, forcibly removing objects from your dog’s mouth puts you at risk. Your dog could become defensive and growl, snap, or even bite you. You could also cause your dog to develop resource guarding, as they won’t trust that what they have is theirs to keep. A fear of having desired items snatched away can motivate that type of aggression and requires the assistance of a behavior professional to manage and treat.

How to Prevent Your Dog From Developing a Keep-Away Habit

If chasing your dog makes the problem worse, what should you do? First, try to prevent the habit from ever developing. Keep items out of your dog’s reach by puppy-proofing your house. For example, keep your shoes in the closet and put lids on the hamper and garbage cans. If your dog can’t get to forbidden objects in the first place, you don’t need to worry about theft.

Also, make sure your dog has adequate mental stimulation and physical exercise. Bored dogs look for their own fun, but if your dog is already busy, they’ll be less likely to bother with your belongings. It helps to provide your dog with a variety of toys and edible chews to occupy their time. Rotate the toys every week or two to keep them feeling fresh and new so your dog stays interested.

Finally, teach your dog a “leave it” cue so they understand when something is off-limits. Start with treats in your hand and close your fist when your dog tries to take one. Then, open your hand when your dog backs off. Reinforce them with a treat from your other hand to show them that leaving something alone is just as rewarding as trying to take it.

Weimaraner laying down on command for a treat at home.
©Laura -

What to Do If Your Dog Steals Something

If your dog is already a seasoned thief, you must break the habit. First, puppy-proof your house to limit your dog’s opportunities to steal. Second, teach your dog a “drop it” cue so they learn that giving things up means getting something even better in return. You can also teach your dog to trade items with you. For example, offer them a piece of chicken in exchange for a toy. Then, once they’ve eaten the chicken, give the toy back. Returning the toy will teach your dog that it’s no big deal to give things to you. Then, if you ever need to take something away permanently, your dog will be less likely to care.

However, don’t practice trading with your dog if they already perform resource guarding behavior or exhibit signs of stress or anxiety like pulled-back ears, stiff posture, growling, or a tucked tail. This body language indicates your dog is uncomfortable. Enlist the help of a professional dog trainer or behavior consultant to help you with this issue. But if your dog is in possession of something potentially dangerous, such as food containing chocolate, you won’t have time to call a professional. In this case, you could trade an object with your dog. You could also try throwing or dropping treats or kibble nearby so you have time to retrieve the object.

Finally, if your dog does steal something, never chase them. Instead, approach them calmly with something more valuable in your hand or lure them to you with a particularly delectable treat. Don’t panic, but instead keep a cool head. Act like the item doesn’t matter because, for some dogs, the more you seem to want the item, the more they want to keep it. Once you have your dog’s attention, use your “drop it” cue or swap with your dog for the item in your hand. Then, praise heavily when your dog makes the trade. With management and consistency, your dog will eventually decide there are better games to play than keep-away.

Related article: What to Do When Your Dog Steals and Guards Items
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