dogs chasing after stick

Why Does My Dog Take Toys Away From Other Dogs?

Taking toys away from other dogs can be a common form of play-fighting and puppy behavior. However, if your dog can't stand the sight of another dog with a toy, constantly tries to take toys away, or is being very aggressive, you may need to address the behavior. This article discusses why your dog may be exhibiting toy-stealing behavior, some strategies to address it, and training methods you can use with your dog. 

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Dogs Steal Toys During Play

Play behavior can get quite rough among dogs, and it may be hard to distinguish dogs who are playing from dogs who are fighting or are being aggressive. When there are toys around for puppies to enjoy, dogs may playfully take toys away from other dogs and take turns having access to toys. Playful toy-taking behavior typically goes like this: 

  • Dog A is chewing on a toy, and dog B comes over and starts to bark in the other dog's face. 
  • Dog A may get annoyed and start growling, perhaps taking the toy to another area.
  • Dog B may not take this rejection well and start trying to find other ways to get their paws on the toy. Some dogs can get very creative in their strategies to capture toys; they may begin to rush and bark at another object to lure the other dog over and then run to steal the toy. They may also try to elicit attention from their owner and then steal the toy from the other dog. 

In cases where dogs use stealing as a playful way to start a game, they employ metacommunication through high-pitched barks, play bows, and loose body movements. These cues emphasize that they are only trying to play, and there is no intent to harm or actual aggression. This form of stealing is generally not harmful, and as long as nobody is hurt or gets into a real fight, both dogs are just having fun. 

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When Puppies Steal Toys From Older Dogs

When a new puppy (or adult dog) arrives in the home of an older, established dog, each dog will initially be very cautious and spend extended periods monitoring each other. As the two dogs become more familiar with each other, they will start looking for signs indicating how the other dog may react to their actions. For example, puppies love playing with toys and may occasionally try to "test" the older dog's behavior to see what they are ok with. They may soon observe that getting near an older dog, while he is eating may result in an intimidating warning growl, while there may be no consequences for stealing a toy under his nose. 

Usually, when puppies "test" other dogs in this way, you don't need to intervene, as long as the older dog is okay with the puppy's behavior. For example, the older dog may be okay with the puppy stealing toys if they don't value those toys very much or consider a young undeveloped puppy a threat. Many older dogs let puppies get away with things they wouldn't allow with older dogs, granting them what trainers call a "puppy license." However, as the puppy gets older and more "bratty," things may change. As puppies mature into "doggy adolescents" around six months, tensions may begin to rise and risk coming to a head, particularly with same-sex dogs reaching social maturity around 12-36 months. 

 big dog with little dog

Related: 20 Best Dog Toys for Small and Large Dogs

When Your Dog Aggressively Steals Toys From Other Dogs

Dogs growl to communicate, and as long as the dogs don't cause harm to each other, growling is okay and normal. Humans perceive growling to be threatening, and while dogs do growl to signal aggression, it's also a way to resolve conflict without the dog putting themselves in harm's way. Growling is how dogs "use their words." Dog trainers often call growling a form of "ritualized aggression." More serious stealing behaviors can be trickier to spot and handle, as the dog who allows another dog to steal toys from them is just as guilty as the thief. The dog who steals toys gains confidence every time they're allowed to steal toys from another dog, and if the other dog objects one day, things can escalate quickly. 

The dog protecting his toy may escalate from growling to more intense threats. Though air bites look scary, they're a purposely missed bite. Dogs have an excellent aim when they intend to bite- but when they snap in the air, it means they don't want to. Further escalation may result in an inhibited bite (softer biting without intention to harm) or even bites intended to harm. 

Resource competition often becomes an issue when a young dog reaches social maturity, typically around 12 to 36 months. 

Helping Dogs "Share"

Good management strategies are essential in modifying resource-guarding behavior. Change the environment to eliminate spaces, items, and situations that may provoke guarding behavior in your dog. In some instances of prolonged aggression, dogs may need to be separated, until training time. If your dogs haven't been exposed to positive training techniques already, now is the time to start working with them individually.

Train And Treat Them Together

After establishing a good environment and exposing your dogs to clicker training, start working with the dogs together. The goal is to make all interactions between your dog's educational and positive behavior to prevent aggressive behavior. Leash both dogs and place a low-value toy near Dog A. Bring in Dog B, stopping a fair distance away from Dog A and well outside the point where Dog A may be concerned. Click and treat dog A for remaining calm, and click and treat Dog B for not going after the resource. Repeat these steps, bringing the dogs closer and closer together until Dog A can walk right past Dog A's toy without a reaction from either of them. 

Once your dogs are trained with the low-value resource, start at the beginning distance again, using better resources. Go through the same exact steps, keeping two dogs under control, so they can past each other's toys without getting aggressive. Try practicing this exercise in different locations, especially in places where your dogs like to guard. Modifying resource-guarding behavior is not easy or fast, so don't hesitate to employ the services of a veterinary behaviorist or professional trainer. 

playful young dog

Related: Dog Not Playing With Toys? Here's How to Get a Dog to Play With Toys

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