How to train a dog to stop stealing toys from other dogs

You are helpless as you watch your 2-year-old dog repeatedly steal a tennis ball from a Labrador Retriever and his person while they are trying to enjoy a nice day at the park.

You apologize, go through the social gestures of telling your dog that he is “being bad” and you sheepishly walk him to the other side of the park, only to see him race after the ball and do it again. You leave well before you planned on leaving, but you don’t want to face the wrath of the seemingly nice person, and would not blame him if he blew up after the tenth time of your dog’s thievery.

What can you do to stop this problem, and enjoy carefree trips to the park?

This is an example of a training situation where you are required to do a fair amount of work before you can expect the behaviors to “stick” in the heat of the moment. In other words, you can go to the park before your dog knows the behaviors, but you need to manage his behavior by using leashes or go when there aren’t dogs and toys in the park.

I recommend teaching the following behaviors in preparation for working with a dog that is out of control around toys.

Leave It
This behavior is taught many different ways, but the easiest way is to put your dog on leash, put a tennis ball or other toy a few feet away from him and say, “Leave It”. Wait for a second and if he doesn’t turn around, tap your leg or make a “kissy noise” with your mouth to motivate him to turn around and then reward him with a treat or another, equally fun toy.

Stop This is my emergency cue that I use for safety. You can teach this very easily by using a leash and gently stopping your dog after saying, “Stop”.

Come
Using long leashes, you can teach your dog to be calm around toys and come to you on cue by saying the cue ONE time and gently reeling him in and then throwing another toy for him to chase. There are many, many ways of teaching Come.

Drop It
But, basically all you have to do is practice, practice, practice. Simply wait until your dog is playing with a toy, grab a treat and wait. When he has it in his mouth, say, “Drop” ONE TIME and then wave the treat in front of his nose. AS SOON as he drops it, say, “Yes!” or ‘click’ if you are using a clicker and give him the treat. With enough repetition, your dog will drop anything in his mouth.

If your dog knows these basic behaviors, you can get the control needed to teach him to leave other toys alone. Just keep in mind that it will take some time to get him skilled enough where this will actually work at the park. Be patient, work on lots of repetitions, and have fun.
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