Have you ever found yourself chasing your dog around the house to retrieve your socks or shoes? Dogs seem to have fun stealing you stuff and that often includes items from the laundry basket, candy wrappers and even a Kleenex you just dropped. Problems start though the day your dog plays keep away with something that is truly dangerous and that you must get out of his mouth as soon as possible. What can you do in this case? You certainly can’t just allow him to take off with it and possibly ingest the item if it’s toxic or can cause a blockage. At the same time, you don’t want to keep chasing your dog or cornering him to open his mouth and forcibly get him to release the item. That’s not very safe as it can get you accidentally bitten, suggests dog trainer Elana Rose,. On top of that, with time, even the most docile dog may one day decide he has had enough and may decide to bite.
Introducing The Trading Game
A good way to tell your dog to give up an object is to teach him the trading game. You may have to practice this game several times so that the day you must get your dog to release something he shouldn’t have, your dog will know exactly what to do. Practice these exchange exercises frequently so that your dog gets a hang of it. In order to start training the trade game you will need an object that your dog isn’t too crazy about and some tasty, treats.
Provide your dog with the low-value object, wait for him to take it. As soon as he takes it, say “drop” and simultaneously show him a treat. The moment your dog drops the object to get the treat, tell him “thank you!” and keep his mouth busy as you feed him a tasty treat and take the object. Then, give him the object back and repeat several times. After a few sessions, the moment your dog takes the object, say “drop” again but this time don’t show the treat. Keep it in your pocket or in your hand out of view. When your dog drops the object, say “thank you!” and retrieve the object while you give a treat. The goal is to have your dog drop the object when you say “drop” even before you present the treat. Repeat the exercise with several different low-value items so that your dog generalizes this exercise to different objects.
Increasing the Challenge
As your dog gets good at giving up low-value items in anticipation of the treat, it’s time to progress to higher-value objects. Be careful to do this gradually, starting with items he likes more than the average lower value ones and working your way up to the “hot” ones. At the same time though, you also want to increase the value of the treats your are exchanging the item for. So if your dog did fine exchanging low-value objects for normal treats, you may now want to provide something your dog drools for such as roasted chicken, string cheese or some freeze-dried liver. Reserve these special goodies for exchanges with hot items.
You may also find it useful to add some distance to the trading game. Place the item on the floor, take a step back and wait for your dog to pick up the item. Before he takes off with it, say “drop!” Your dog will likely automatically drop the item and come towards you for the treat, so be ready to say “thank you.” Give the treat, but this time toss it the opposite way of the object so you have time to go collect it while he’s at a distance. Then give the object back and repeat. If at any time during these exercises your dog appears tense or shows signs of aggression, consult with a behavior professional.
Of course, there may be a time when your dog will get a hold of something he absolutely shouldn’t have and you won’t have treats with you. This is when all your hard work will pay off. Tell your dog to “drop” as you would normally do, when he drops, say “thank you!” get the object as you give your dog loads of praise and pats. Or even better, if you are at home and have access to treats, tell your dog “thank you! and say” let’s go get a cookie” as you both run happily to the doggy cookie jar.
Teaching the dog to trade can help prevent resource guarding from starting in the first place, explains dog trainer Victoria Stillwell. The main objective of the trading game is to let your dog know that every time he relinquishes something to you, great things happen. This exercise should be continued for the rest of the dog’s life so that the behavior remains fluent. Some dogs catch on so well, that they voluntarily start bringing you things in hopes of a trade!