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Thievery of dangerous items is hard habit for dogs to break

Cottonwood Journal Extra of Cottonwood, Arizona

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Paws Around Town

Most of my dogs were rescued husky mixes and wolf dog mixes for quite a few years. I got used to dealing with the temperaments and stealthy habits of these breeds that are genetically closer to their ancestral roots than the dogs I have today that are plain, domestic mixed-breed companions.

Thievery was something I expected. I considered myself lucky if one of my dogs had a conscience about stealing. Most of the time, they were reasonably respectful of what was mine while I was nearby, but the minute I was out of sight, I'd hear the clanking of dishes on the counter and catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of a moving shape slinking off with some treasure.

Winnie steals. She spent the first few months of her life surviving on her own and she got good at it. Many dogs who have had to fend for themselves take up thievery as a survival tool and it's a hard habit to break even once they've been in a secure home for years.

Many of my dogs came from the streets or hard situations where food was a scarcity. Much of my life has been spent finding safe spots for garbage cans and squirreling away anything vaguely edible in cupboards and drawers.

Can a dog really be a thief? Yes, indeed. Assuming that dogs descend from wolves, it's easy to put it all in perspective.

The popular image of the wolf as a great hunter is not quite accurate. They are opportunists that will take the easiest prey for food. "

In the wild, wolves subsist primarily on rodents, not big game animals. Rodents are much easier to catch. Food on counters is also easy to catch.

How you respond when your dog runs off with something it has stolen can create bigger problems or help you establish a closer, clearer bond with your pet.

Understanding why your dog is stealing is a good place to start, along with knowing how to get the treasured item back.

If you have established yourself as the human in the household, you are in control of all the resources and getting a stolen object back can be as simple as telling your dog to drop it and leave it.

If the relationship is still not quite clear and your role as the ultimate authority has not been established, you may have to resort to coercion and trickery to outwit your dog into dropping a valuable or potentially dangerous object.

Chasing your dog is not a good idea. It becomes a game and can be dangerous if your dog is in a situation where you need it not to run from you. Cornering your dog in a room or area where it can't escape is fine if your dog is not responding aggressively but cornered, trapped animals can lash out, even if they are generally mild mannered, so don't force aggression.

Tyr, my big wolf mix dog once stole a whole turkey. He was never aggressive unless he had something that I tried to take away. He wouldn't drop it. I ended up squirting the turkey from a distance with Tabasco sauce until it was so nasty tasting that he dropped it. I had to be careful not to get it in his eyes but it worked. I won without having to get angry or force dominance. He went off sulking when I took his treasure. Tyr was almost as big as me. After that, he let me take things away from him.

If your dog is already in the habit of running when you try to take something, start off with a trade. No, it's not a long-term ideal but it's a way to start teaching your dog to relinquish things to you.

By providing a trade, and praising the acceptance, ultimately you are in charge. Eventually you'll be able to wean your dog off the need to have a fair exchange.

Meanwhile, understand that it is in the basic nature of dogs to take things. They have to be taught not to and while it may be frustrating, anger and frustration don't work in long-term training.

Keep dangerous or forbidden objects out of reach. If your dog is big enough or agile enough to graze or climb up onto counters, don't leave leftovers within reach.

Keep sugar bowls and packets of artificial sugar in sealed containers in the cupboards, not in a convenient serving bowl. Xylotol is toxic to pets and is in many low-sugar food substances, toothpaste and drink mixes.

Keep garbage cans sealed and out of the way and do your best to protect your valuables. Ultimately, you can teach almost any dog not to take things within reason but realize that it's always best to keep toxic or otherwise dangerous things out of reach.

Paws Around Town was written this week by Nadia Caillou, an animal care specialist and co-owner of a pet store in Sedona. She is the founder of Golden Bone Rescue and Rehab and has over 30 years experience helping distressed animals and helping pet owners, shelters and pounds overcome problem behavior in animals.

Copyright 2015 Cottonwood Journal Extra, Cottonwood, Arizona. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: February 25, 2015

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