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Why Dogs Play Keep Away and How to Put an End to It | Pupford

January 9th, 2024

Filed under Training

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If you have ever had a puppy, you are likely very familiar with the dreaded game of keep away. You’re rushing out the door trying to put your shoes on and your puppy grabs your sock right out of your hand and runs away at full speed? We have ALL been there. While our dogs mean well and are motivated by fun and games, this behavior can be frustrating. As well as potentially hazardous if they take something dangerous to them. In this blog post, we will cover why dogs do this and ways to prevent it. Let’s get started!

Table of Contents:

  1. Why Do Dogs Play The Keep Away Game?
  2. How To Prevent Dogs From Playing Keep Away

Why Do Dogs Play The Keep Away Game?

Before we provide you with some solutions for dogs who are furry little thieves, aka masters at keep away, let’s talk about why dogs may be performing this behavior in the first place.

1. Attention

dog carrying shoe

Just like people, dogs are social animals. Being provocative is a great way to get attention amongst all social beings, and dogs are no different.

When our dog takes something they shouldn’t and starts running around with it, they have learned that is a surefire way to get our attention.

While we may think of this as ‘bad’ attention, to our dogs there is no such thing. We are inadvertently reinforcing them by chasing them (we all know how much our dogs love a good game of chase), calling their name, redirecting our attention from what we were previously doing to them, and maybe even holding out a treat to trade for the stolen item.

2. Too Much Freedom

If your dog is routinely getting into the same items over and over again, they may have too much freedom in the home.

It is important to remember that it is our job to manage our dog’s environment and remove any temptations or hazards out of their reach. If your dog is a perpetual shoe thief, shoes should be kept away or out of reach at all times.

Find out more about how much freedom is right for your dog in this blog post! 

3. Lack of Other Outlets

playing keep away with dog

Dogs may perform this behavior because of boredom and a lack of other outlets to fulfill their needs.

Dogs need daily opportunities to play, especially puppies and adolescents. Exercise and fulfill their needs through mental enrichment opportunities.  

Learn more about the importance of play here! 

How To Prevent Dogs From Playing Keep Away

Being mischievous is fun! As we said previously, attention is attention to our dogs. So it is up to us to be intentional about what behaviors we give our attention to.

1. Identify Triggers & improve Management

bulldog puppy carrying shoe

If your dog is a repeat offender when it comes to the keep-away game, try to figure out if they have any common triggers.

  • Does it happen when you are leaving in the morning?
  • When you get home from work?
  • Whenever you get out certain exercise equipment?
  • Do they always steal kitchen towels?

By identifying these things you can better manage their environment to prevent the behavior from occurring altogether by either taking away their access to that item or giving them something else to play with during times of excitement in the household.

2. Remain Calm

If your dog runs off with something they shouldn’t and attempts to initiate play, remain calm. Act like you don’t want the item, refrain from talking to them about the object or chasing them.

Many dogs will learn to just drop the item because being ignored isn’t very fun for them. If your dog is persistent or you are concerned about them swallowing a hazardous object, find a toy of theirs and play keep away with them.

Run around with it, be silly, and try to get them to engage with something else instead.

3. The Naughty Dog Game

Finally, my favorite solution of all for dogs who play the keep away game is the Naughty Dog Game. This is a game coined by renowned dog trainer Kim Brophey. Here’s how to play:

  • When your dog grabs one of their toys, feign as though it’s an unacceptable item. Playfully say to them, “What do you have?” and pretend to get it from them.
  • This creates “managed mischief” and elicits the same feelings of playfulness and excitement when your dog steals an item and plays keep away.
  • Be light-hearted, fun, silly, and slightly antagonistic! Remember this is a game so it’s all about play!
  • Make the game unique to your dog, and see what interactions your dog finds the most enjoyable.

While playing this game, be sure to watch your dog’s body language. They should interact in the play with loose body language, a soft face, and a wagging tail. If your dog seems uncomfortable at all or begins to guard their toy, discontinue playing the game.

While all pup parents can probably agree this is a nuisance behavior that can feel very frustrating, there are ways to go about managing the behavior and flipping the script to turn it into a fun game that is enjoyable for both us and our pup!


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