Dog steals toys at dog park
If your dog steals toys at the dog park, my best advice is to teach the dog commands for “drop” and “leave it.” Practice at home and in different environments, slowly increasing the distractions.
Here are some more ideas:
What to do if your dog steals toys at the dog park
Hire a professional dog trainer.
People seem hesitant to hire dog trainers, yet they are not hesitant to complain about their dog-training problems. But even if you “know everything” about dogs, it’s nice to get a second opinion.
Is your dog’s behavior aggressive?
If your dog has possessive aggression at the dog park, then the park is not a good place to take him (for now). Look at this as a challenge to find more appropriate ways to exercise, train and socialize your dog for now.
Teach a solid “leave it” command.
The second we get to the dog park, my Lab mix Ace searches for tennis balls. He is more obsessed with BALLS than any other dog, yet I have successfully taught him to “leave it” no matter what. If your dog is obsessed with a toy, there’s hope!
You’ll want to start small, telling your dog to “leave it” around lesser-valued toys or food in exchange for higher-valued items. A sock for some chicken. Dog food for hamburger. Slowly increase the challenges as your dog is successful, but progress slowly.
Eventually, you should practice “leave it” in different environments, with other dogs around and when your dog is in an excited state of mind. Most dogs can easily learn to “leave it” in the living room, but it’s another story once running wild at the dog park. Practice the command in “exciting” environments like Grandma’s backyard, in the front doorway or outside on a hike.
Practice “leave it” during play.
You know those moments when you’re crawling around on all fours playing with your dog? And he’s super excited, running around like a maniac? During those exciting moments, your dog should learn that “leave it” still applies. If he doesn’t obey this command while playing with you, he won’t obey the command while playing with other dogs.
Don’t be afraid to correct your dog.
It’s good to set clear boundaries when dealing with possessive aggression in dogs. If I tell my dog “leave it” and I see him eyeing the toy like he might take it, I step forward, point at him, look him in the eyes and say “No! Leave it!”
Sometimes dogs need to hear the word “no.” It triggers them to stop what they’re doing. And by all means, reward your dog when he does well!
Teach a “drop” command.
“Drop” is not the same as “leave it” because the object is already in the dog’s mouth. This makes the command even harder for the dog to learn and obey, but teaching a dog the drop command is just as important.
A good method for teaching “drop” is to give your dog something even better than what he has. If he drops the ball, he gets some ham. He drops the raw hide, he gets some real chicken. Make it impossible for your dog to fail. Practice in controlled settings with the dog on a leash so you can always enforce the command. Eventually, you won’t need to use a food reward every single time.
Increase your dog’s general obedience.
All the basic obedience commands are important – sit, stay, come, heel, down. But your dog needs to have more than a basic understanding. He needs to obey you 99 percent of the time, even with distractions. If he doesn’t, then he is not under control, and he shouldn’t be at the dog park.
The most important basic commands for the dog park setting are come and sit/stay. You need to be able to call your dog to you, and you need him to remain sitting at your side if necessary. If your dog can do these two things, even with distractions and even under stress, you can handle almost any situation.
Socialize in small groups.
Once your dog has some solid obedience skills and is reliably responding to leave it and drop, you may be comfortable enough to let him play with toys around another dog. You should not start with the dog park. You should invite one or two calm, well-socialized, submissive dogs over to play. Hopefully one of your friends or family members owns a dog that would be a good match. Explain what you are working on so the other dog owner knows ahead of time.
It is always best to walk the two dogs together side by side before they play off leash. And allow them to play for a bit before you bring out the toys. Start with toys that are typically boring to your dog so he is less likely to become possessive. You may want to keep a leash on your dog so you can regain control if needed, but make sure you’re not creating more tension. Keep the situation relaxed.
If you see some tension or potential aggression about to happen, distract the dogs with a high-pitched sound. Make a whistling noise or click your tongue or say “look here!” Reward your dog for making eye contact.
If you see your dog sharing the toys or showing calm behavior, tell him what a good boy he is. Remember to practice your commands for leave it, drop, come and stay with the other dog around.
Interrupt before play escalates.
Sometimes dogs play nicely at first, but then they get aggressive when the energy escalates. If this is the case with your dog, make sure to call him to you before the playing gets to that point. This will allow him to take a quick break and tone it down before returning to playing. Short breaks like this in a positive way will help your dog be successful.
Exercise your dog before socializing.
Walk your dog for a good 45 minutes before play dates and before going to the dog park. The less energy your dog has before entering the park, the better. Sometimes that initial burst of energy upon entering the park is what causes fights. Keep your dog calm when you enter the park. Practice obedience commands as you bring your dog in.
Visit a different dog park.
Sometimes dogs make associations with certain parks. People do the same thing. We like a routine, and we act differently in our favorite bar or coffee shop than we would in a new place. If your dog is a bully at one park, he may not act the same way at a new park.
The dog park is not for all dogs.
Some possessive dogs should never visit the dog park, even after serious training. It’s just too overwhelming, frightening, challenging or exciting for some dogs. If this is the case for your dog, perhaps you can try again in a few months after your dog has had more training, socialization and time to mature. But perhaps not.