Do you have a stealing dog? Let’s explain it. A dog that constantly steals things around the house, and turns it into a game? Once he steals a sock or something else, he wants you to chase him around the house trying to let go of the stolen treasure?
Well, your dog has trained you well. Luckily, you can modify this behavior by playing the trade-up game. It is a simple game you can play to make sure your dog doesn’t steal, or that when he steals your socks, he gives them back for a toy or something else.
What is the trade-up game?
You should start the trade-up game as soon as you get your dog inside. You will teach your dog to trade up for life. But do not do it when your dog is eating his meal or chewing a chew toy.
The trick is to figure out what is your dog’s favorite toy. I’ve talked about this in my article how to play with your dog. You should also get a second identical toy. Or figure out your dog’s favorite food items and treats.
Trading up is a simple game. When your dog has something in his mouth that is of value to him, give him something of a higher value. You trade up.
And the next time your dog takes a sock, you trade up. Instead of chasing your dog, you can play a game where you get his attention and trade up with a toy.
The game also helps with teaching commands like drop it. How to do that? The moment your dog drops the sock in his mouth to take the toy you are trading with, mark with a verbal cue drop it, and reinforce with your toy as a reward.
See? Your trade-up object now becomes a reinforcement for dropping an object. The biggest benefit of this game is a predictable outcome.
Step by Step Instructions
Now let’s talk about step-by-step instructions for the trade-up game. Chasing your dog to get something out of his mouth can cause stress, anxiety, and aggression in both you and your puppy. Why bother? There is a safer and more pleasant way to get socks out of his mouth.
The trade-up game teaches your pup to relinquish items and remain calm and relaxed as you approach. Bonus: your dog will be calmly waiting for you to come up at him.
Step 1 – Prepare for the game
The first step is you have to teach your dog that good things happen when you approach. Discreetly place a few treats in your pocket. When your dog is laying down, drop a treat next to him and walk away. Do this periodically and randomly throughout the day. Do not pet your dog or interact at all. It is a way to teach your dog that when you are nearby, good things happen.
Step 2 – Getting ready to trade up
For the next step, you have to teach your dog that good things happen when you are in the room and he has possession of an object. For this step, you need high-value treats. Cut them into tiny pieces. Wait until your dog picks up an item on his own. Once your puppy starts chewing on it or playing with the item, toss a few treats toward your dog.
Do not approach your puppy. If your puppy doesn’t walk to the treats, they are not of high value. It means the item your pup has is of higher value.
Step 3 – Approach your puppy
At this point, your dog should pick up treats you toss while holding an object. You can start approaching the dog as he is comfortably eating the treats you tossed from a distance. Watch your dog’s body language and drop a few treats on the ground next to the item. Do not touch your dog or the item. If your dog eats the treat, you can move to the next step
Step 4 – Moving closer
Approach your dog once again and drop a few treats. Does your dog eat the treats calmly? Or does he gobble up and pick up the toy again? If your dog is rushing to eat the treats, repeat the first steps. If he is calm and comfortable, move to the next step
Step 5 – Preparing the trade
Confirm that your dog is comfortable with steps 1-4. Toss a few treats away from the toy, and as your dog is eating, pick up the toy. When your puppy returns to you, give them the toy. This teaches the puppy it is OK for you to pick up the toy. It also means your dog will not lose access to the toy just because he went for some kibble
Step 6 – Trade up
At this point, your dog is ready for trading items for treats. You can now add a verbal cue like “drop it” to make sure your dog drops the toy and is ready for some kibble or another high-value treat/toy.
There is a reason why some puppies grab a toy and run around. You get what you reinforce. If your dog loves being chased, chasing him will reinforce that behavior. If your dog loves trading up, you can reinforce that behavior.
Yes, sometimes you can make chasing up part of a game you play with your puppy. But never, ever snatch things from dogs. If you trade up and do not snatch things from your puppy, your dog will never feel the need to avoid you when he has something he shouldn’t.