My dog likes to pick up EVERYTHING when out for a walk!
Puppies like to explore everything with their mouths and most things they come across will end up getting picked up!
This can be quite a heart stopping moment for owners especially if we do not know what they have picked up or if it is something that we think is not safe. The temptation is to get it from the puppy as quickly as possible and very quickly it turns in to a game of chase the puppy around the house, garden or park depending where they have picked the item up! Although this is very much human instinct it is also incredibly rewarding for the dog as the thrill of the chase is certainly worth it. However, even if you can completely ignore the puppy it is also not going to solve the problem as it is incredibly rewarding for dogs to hold things in their mouths as when they hold onto articles it releases dopamine into the dog’s body which makes them feel good.
So, it can be a difficult one to overcome and often comes down to teaching a really solid ‘leave’ cue and in worst case scenario ‘drop’ cue. These are great behaviours to teach puppies but it is also good to teach them that not every article is for them to have in their mouths as some things they come across may be poisonous or unsafe which will result in a trip to the vets.
Teaching puppies impulse control games is a great one for this and the easiest way to do it is through games of tug. Teaching them when you want them to grab on to the toy and when you want them to release. It is important to keep the game fun and every now and then your dog must win the game. I always teach this as a really gentle game and often add in different obedience tasks to break up the game so it is not super arousing. There are lots of different types of tug toy out there so can be a bit of trial and error to find the right one for you and your puppy. I would also recommend using the toy for training only so it doesn’t get destroyed and becomes really high value to the dog.
It is also important to give your dog things that they can pick up and chew at home too. Again, there are lots of different enrichment toys you can buy or even DIY your own. Chewing is a natural behaviour for dogs to do and by giving them access to chewing articles means they can practice the behaviour in a safe way.
Play hide and seek games with your dog in the house and out and about. This does not have to be a hard game but it can be a great way to get them to find things that you know are safe for them to have and puts the scavenging activity into a positive rather than a negative behaviour.
Another great way to break the habit especially for older dogs it to do muzzle training with them which will stop them practicing the behaviour giving a chance to put in new habits that are stronger and more reinforcing for them to do.
The biggest thing I always recommend is try not to panic as your puppy will pick up on it. Try not to approach your dog but invite them to fetch the article to you! Play lots of swapping games and another great way to teach a drop is every time you say drop you put a treat down on the floor and your dog will soon realise every time they hear drop a treat is on its way, so the quicker they will release their article for the treat. This is a great game to play even when your dog has not stolen something so it doesn’t become associated with trying to get articles away from them.
If you are struggling with scavenging please do not hesitate to ask any questions.