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What to do With a Puppy Who Steals?

Updated on May 30, 2008


Puppies are downright cute. Right? But, they sure do get into a lot of trouble... I believe I've only had one puppy not... No... I take that back. I've never not have a puppy with some behavioral problem.

With my most current pups I have, or currently am, experiencing the following problems:

  • Yorkshire Terrier- (male) agressive when grooming, potty training, Stealing
  • St. Bernard/ Collie mix- (female) destructive chewing when left alone due to separation anxiety
  • American Pit Bull Terrier- (male) destructive chewing due to boredom when left alone, potty training
  • American Pit Bull Terrier- (female) hyperactivity, Stealing

Now, looking at the list, the two most common would be potty training and stealing. As potty training is a complete game of its own, stealing can be an annoying little trick that your puppy, or dog, has decided to perform.

Problem Dog Behaviors

Problem behaviors with you pup can be corrected once you have determined the cause of the behavior. With puppies, you want to correct any problems that you are experiencing before the puppy becomes an adult, and you're now chasing an 75 pound lab around the house because he stole your bedroom slipper.

Don't think it cute when you 5 month old dalmatian decides to take off with a napkin from the garbage. Don't laugh at him, because as with children, dogs will take that as amusement and a reinforcement to continue doing the behavior. And, unless you want to chase you adult dog around the house, then go ahead, laugh and call everyone in to see what Fido just did.

Doggie Destruction and Mess

Dogs with problem behaviors whether its chewing, digging, or stealing, all create mess! And, at this point, you're searching the internet, asking local petstore trainers, and asking friends what they did to stop the insanity that's going on in your house. You're at your wits end, and you've had enough!

Tired of cleaning up the torn, shredded newspaper or toilet paper after your dog has stolen it from its rightful place in the house?

Well, I'm going to try to help you by assuming you haven't started working with the puppy, and assuming that you've been running after him, as in many cases, that is the most common scenario

Training 'Leave It'

When teaching 'leave it,' have an item that your dog absolutely loves to take, but you would rather he not have. Also, make sure to have his favorite treat, whether it be a hot dog sliver, small piece of cheese, or even just a regular dog treat will do just fine. Just make sure it's irresistible. The treat must be better than the object your dog wants, otherwise, in your dog's head, 'what's the point?' He has what he wants, and that yuckie milkbone isn't any better.

Next, show the dog the forbidden item, let's use a sock. Have the sock in one hand in front of the dog, and the treat behind your back or out of sight somewhere. If he knows it there, he might not even fall for taking the sock from you, which defeats the purpose.

When the puppy tried to take the sock from you, tell him leave it, and refuse him the sock. This may even take two hands- one on the sock and one on the dog's collar. When the pup tries to take the sock even after you've told him to 'leave it,' give the command again with a gentle tug on the collar at the same time. This will redirect the pup's attention to the tug and, hopefully, not the sock. At this precise moment, praise and reward the dog for leaving the sock alone. This may take several tries, but once the dog (1st) tries to take the sock, (2nd) you say 'leave it,' (3rd) he changes his mind even for just a split second, REWARD! Praise. Get excited. Treat. Let your dog know he did what you wanted.

Once, he's no fail at 'leave it' when the forbidden item is in you hand, try dropping the item on the floor in front of him. This may require you having the leash on the dog, so that you can still give a gentle tug if needed.

Stop Theft

So, I've already told you to stop laughing and pointing at the puppy because like children, this will only egg the dog on more. He'll continue doing the behavior because he thinks it pleases you.

And, I mentioned that I'm assuming you're running after the dog, who has the forbidden item in his mouth. Stop doing that, too... Dogs, especially puppies, take this as play. You run after them, so they continue to run, sometimes picking up speed.

But, what else can you do?

First off, start basic obedience training as soon as possible. Make sure that you teach the 'Leave it' command, as this will be very useful in teaching your dog that you really don't like him stealing your things. You can use 'drop it' if the dog already has stolen the object and is running off, and when he drops the object, use 'leave it,' but if he's reaching to take the object, skip 'drop it' and go straight to 'leave it.'

Second, work on teaching the dog to 'come' or 'here' on command. You can do this with a leashed dog and some treats. Have the dog 'stay,' walk away a few steps, give the command, and as the dog's coming towards you back up a few more steps while he's still moving. Once, the puppy is at your feet, have him 'sit.' Repeat this several times while on the leash. Once he's no fail, try off leash as a short distance less than the length of the leash. As you've added to the command, you must take away from the difficulty. Your dog needs to learn to come to you on the first call. Never call the dog to you and punish it. He must connect coming when called to good things. This is a good tip if your pup is stealing and running from you. (Remember- DO NOT CHASE HIM!)

Third, and a very important rule of thumb, keep all forbidden objects out of the puppy's reach! If you don't want him to take your shoes, put them in the closet when you're not wearing them. Keep covers on the trash can, or close the door, so the puppy can't get to an open trash can.

Fourth, when the puppy picks up something he's not supposed to have, and comes near your direction. Praise him. Make him think that giving you the forbidden object is the point of the 'game.' Just watch out, as you may end up with pens, pencils, the newspaper, shoes, etc, in a pile next to you on the desk, while you're on the computer. But, the alternative is him destroying the object.

You may even want to invest in a new spray bottle. Fill it with water. When your puppy goes near an object he's not supposed to have, spray him. The object is to spray the pup in the face between the eyes. NEVER in the eyes.

Also, with puppies, you want to keep the pup in the room with you at all times, until he is reliable and problem behavior free. Otherwise, you may have accidents on the floor, holes in your new shirt, shredded homework, anything... If you can't watch the dog, as you're busy with chores, homework, etc, put the dog in its crate or in a puppy safe room (I.E. no forbidden objects laying around, not exposed wires, no exposed electrical sockets, etc. A baby proofed room).

Dog Thievery in Conclusion

Hopefully, I have provided you with ample tips or at least a few ideas as how to stop this doggy problem behavior. If you continue having problems with you puppy, you may want to invest in puppy training classes in your area. Both Petsmart and Petco have trained professional trainers who can assist your doggy needs and concerns. They can help you learn how to train your dog to the basic commands of sit, down, sit/stay, down/stay, stay at a distance, wait, come, leave it, and other various commands that sometimes varies from store to store, trainer to trainer.

Pictures can be found at


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    • mogwai2000 profile image

      mogwai2000 7 years ago

      Nice hub, very informative. My Pit Bull used to be a thief also :).

    • helenathegreat profile image

      helenathegreat 10 years ago from Manhattan

      Really excellent hub, especially your explanation of how to train "leave it"! That's definitely the best way I can imagine it explained without pictures or a video. Well done.

    • Nicholas Wells profile image

      Nicholas Wells 10 years ago from Mora

      Another great one