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How can I stop my dog from stealing?

Dogs that steal things off countertops, tables or out of garbage cans can be difficult to train because they are usually rewarded by obtaining the item they stole or getting a game of chase by their guardian.

You should never chase a dog that has a stolen item. It is better to wait until the dog has been distracted by something else and ignore the dog until they drop it before you try to pick up the item.

The easiest way to prevent a dog from stealing is to keep things out of her reach and dog-proof all the areas the dog is allowed. When you first bring your dog home, keep an eye on her at all times and do not allow her free run of the house. The dog can be connected to you by a four foot rope attached to your belt or crated. The following are some suggestions to help discourage stealing.

  • For countertop stealing, place a tasty bit of food in a paper lunch bag. Let your dog see you do this. Tie the bag shut with kitchen string and connect several "shaker cans" (shaker can is an empty aluminum pop can filled with a few pennies and taped shut) to the string in succession. Leave the bag close to the edge of the counter and leave the room. When your dog makes the grab for the bag and pulls it off the countertop, the shaker can will come with, and startle the dog.
  • Keep a long line on the dog in the house, and as she approaches a desired item, use a deeper voice than normal to give your cue, "LEAVE IT" or "OFF!".
  • Use a shaker can to produce noise as she reaches for the object, but she should not see you using the can. It will be more effective if she thinks the noise is independent of you and associated with reaching for desired objects instead.
  • Cookie sheets can also be placed along countertops so that they create a "false edge." When the dog jumps up the cookie sheets will fall creating a loud noise. Double-sided sticky tape can also be used on the edges of countertops, as some dogs will not like the feeling on their paws when they jump up.
  • Snappy Trainers look like mousetraps with a large flap or paddle. When tripped they spring closed, make a noise while flipping over in the air, and startle but not harm. Snappy Trainers can be placed on counter tops, furniture, garbage cans or any area that you are trying to train your dog to avoid. 

If you would like to work with a Wisconsin Humane Society behaviorist one-on-one regarding this behavior topic, please call 414-431-6173 or email to schedule a consultation.