Dogs don’t have a true concept of “theft”. If they want something and no one else has it, It is fair game. Until the dog has learned to discriminate between ‘dog’ items and ‘human’ items, it’s all just ‘stuff to chew’.
The Exchanging Game is used for three purposes.
1. Teach item discrimination, “What you have in your mouth is not appropriate for you to have, but THIS other item (your toy) is.
2. Not reinforcing the attention seeking “chase me” game. Using the “Mine is better than yours” protocol to halt the reinforcement of the chase.
3. Practicing the “drop-it” cue. Teaching the dog to release an item by opening their mouth.
Discrimination is all about “this or that”. Teaching a dog to discriminate between his stuffed toy and your child’s stuffed toy can take some time. To help this process along you will want to manage the environment. Try to keep the inappropriate items off the floor and out of reach. This will create good habits. If the dog does get ahold of something he shouldn’t, get one of his toys and trade it for the other item. Supervision is essential so that you can be aware of what you dog is chewing on and interrupt before the item is left scattered, liberally across the lounge, with no dog in sight.
Mine is Better than Yours is a lead-on from discrimination. If your dog is already in the bad habit of “stealing”, and he has discovered that a super-fun keep away game ensues, then it is important that you do not reinforce the game. Yet at the same time, you need to get the plastic bag away form your dog before he swallows it. This is where ‘Mine is Better that Yours’ comes in. Pick up an object, a TV remote, a banana, a dog toy, a piece of paper…(any object is fine). Walk away from your dog, find a corner, turn your back towards your dog, and hunch over the item. Caress and talk to the TV remote like it is the best thing you have ever seen. In most cases a dog will always assume you have something better than what he has. He will approach you and drop his item at your feet for a chance to sniff your TV remote. Praise him, and pick up his item. Then reward with one of his own toys.
The ‘Drop it’ cue is about your dog learning to give things to you, because you have asked for them; not because you are bigger, meaner and might hurt him is he doesn’t. This is about polite behaviour, not intimidation. If you have to intimidate your dog into giving you something, you might as well be teaching him to become resource aggressive. He might grudgingly give you things, but if a child tries to take away his toy/bone/resource he has learned the all important lesson that the meaner person wins. This is not a lesson I want my dogs to learn. I teach ‘drop it’ with a a clicker so I can mark the moment he opens his mouth. Then he gets a treat, and gets his ball back. He learns that trading is fun and not something to be stressed about.