Rehabilitating A Labradoodle Pup Who Steals Inappropriate Items for Attention

By: David Codr

Published Date: May 28, 2015

Max Labradoodle 1

Max is a eleven-month-old Labradoodle who steals and tries to eat things while his guardians chase him to get the item. He also occasionally nips children when excited, over barks when there is a knock on the door, counter surfs and digs in the yard.

I sat down with his family to discuss Max’s issues before getting to work. In the course of 60 seconds, I saw him walk near one of his guardians who instinctively reached out to pet him. Less than a minute later, he walked over to his other guardian and literally climbed up on top of him. This is a classic sign of a dog that lacks respect for its guardian. To make matters worse, the guardian petted Max as he climbed on him. In dog, that translates to “Im petting you for climbing up on top of me.”

While climbing on top of them or over petting wasn’t the reason they called me for help, its absolutely related to the issue. When you have a mischievous dog, its important to add rules, boundaries and structure to the situation to help the dog see and respect you as an authority figure. If it doesn’t respect you, the dog is going to do what it wants to do, not what you want. This is because the dog sees and identifies as being the human’s equal or superior in terms of rank and authority.

I went over a few things that his guardians can do to start to change the leader follower dynamic in the home. One of the highlights was to adopt the “Nothing in life is free” methodology. This involves the dog’s guardians no longer petting the dog when it asks for it or just because its near. Instead, asking the dog to sit, then petting it while repeating the command word “sit” can help condition the dog to follow the humans lead. By rewarding the dog after following one of our commands, we can harness the power of positive reinforcement to influence the dog to repeat activities we want.

I also showed the members of the family how to claim their personal space. While we like petting and touching dogs, there should be some decorum or boundaries in place. It fine to invite your dog into you lap. But when the dog jumps up without asking, then its the dog who is making the executive decision. This is a leadership quality when a dog should be partaking in follower actions.

Next I showed the family how to establish boundaries and borders such as staying 10 feet away from the front door when people knock or out of the kitchen when food is being prepared. Max’s guardians had taken to placing him in a kennel when they ate. While this keeps the dog away, it doesn’t help the dog learn that it should keep a respectable distance from humans when they are eating. This was related to why the dog sometimes snatched food out of the children’s hands.

I prefer to practice having he dog restrain itself, i.e. staying out of the kitchen because its the boundary the humans asked it to respect. Once they passed onto the the hard wood floor of the kitchen, I had them turn and stop so they were facing Max with the dog on the other side of the boundary to the kitchen.

Once Max stopped walking forward, I had their guardian take a step directly backward, keeping their face and hips pointing directly at the dog. Once they stepped back, Max started to move towards the kitchen boundary so they took a sudden and deliberate step right at him which stopped him in his tracks. Once he was standing still again, they took another step back and repeated the process until Max stayed outside the kitchen while they were at opposite sides of the kitchen.

Max Labradoodle 2

By establishing this boundary and enforcing it when Max tried to enter, they were able to communicate to Max that he was to stay outside of the kitchen and not pass the boundary at the door.

The more we ask a dog to restrain itself, the better it gets at practicing self control in all parts of a dog’s life. But this skill never gets developed unless the dog has the ability to violate the boundary. Otherwise its the kennel that stops the food snatching. I want the dog to do this on its own, and enforcing boundaries is an outstanding way to do this.

By the end of the session Max was plumb tired. But his interactions with the members of his family were much better. He was recalling and sitting respectfully in front of the youngest of the family’s boys and waiting patiently for them to give him his reward. It will take practice at this, the other exercises and enforcement of the borders and new rules to help Max learn to stop stealing things for attention. With repetition, he will learn that there are other better activities that get him the attention of his family members.

The day after our session, I got a text from his guardians saying that once I left, he decided to pick up and eat some of the business cards I left with his family. When I connected with her a little later, she said that Max was respecting the new boundaries and heeding their commands and corrections in just about all areas except the stealing.

She had tried to offer Max a high value treat to get him to drop a baseball hat he picked up but he ignored her and fled. Because they had been chasing the dog when he took inappropriate items for several months, its going to take time and practice before Max starts regularly engaging in wanted actions or behaviors rather than stealing to be chased.

Because the hat was not allowed, it represents a sort of hidden fruit to Max. When a dog has something it considers of high value (like an item that gets it the attention of its guardians) its less likely to give it up than a more common object like a toy or bone.

I suggested that she gather her sons in a circle on the floor and play a game of keep-away, rolling a ball between them. Once Max intercepts the ball, whoever was closer should immediately hold up a high value treat in front of his nose and wait for him to drop the ball. Once he does, they need to pop the treat into his mouth while repeating the command word “drop.”

Because the ball is not a high value item, it should be easier to get the dog to drop it. And if it doesn’t, they can pull out another ball and continue playing keep away. Once Max learns that the ball isn’t so exclusive or highly coveted by the humans, he will be more likely to give it up. The more rewards he gets for doing so, the more conditioned he will be to give up all items, even higher value ones. It’s going to take practice. But with enough repetitions, Max will learn to drop any object on command.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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