You can reduce the risk of damage to occasional ill-gotten items by teaching your pup to exchange toys for treats, using something he loves that he’s allowed to have, such as a favorite chew toy or a food-stuffed Kong.
The key to this game is he learns that if he gives something up, he gets something better in return and he gets the original thing back as well. Two rewards for the price of one! Then, when he has a forbidden object, he’s more likely to bring it to you to trade than to drag his prize to his cave under the dining room table for a leisurely chew. The rare occasion that he doesn’t get “the thing” back won’t be enough to overcome the programming you’ve done by playing the “trade” game with him frequently.
In order for this to work, you have to stop playing “chase the puppy” when he grabs the sofa cushion or some other forbidden object. This is often an attention-getting behavior; he’s learned that grabbing “your” toys and dashing off with them initiates a rousing play session.
Here’s what you do:
Offer him his well-stuffed Kong and say, “Take it!” Have him on a leash if you think he’ll run off with it.
Give him a little while to get fully engaged in chewing, and then say “Give!” or “Trade!” in a cheerful tone of voice and offer him a handful of irresistible treats, such as small bits of chicken or cheese.
Hold the treats under his nose and let him sniff. It may take him several seconds to think about it, but eventually he should drop his Kong and start eating the treats. Don’t let him gulp them! Hold the tidbits so he can only take them one by one.
When he drops the Kong, say, “Yes!”
While he is still nibbling, reach down with your other hand and pick up the toy.
Let him nibble a bit longer, then offer him the Kong again.
Repeat the exercise several times. Then end the game by giving him back his Kong and letting him chew to his heart’s content.
Play this game at every opportunity, whenever he’s engaged in chewing on his toys on his own, or whenever you feel like initiating the game, until he’ll give up his chew object easily on your “give” cue.
Nancy-Lynn Stoller I.A.C.P.
Professional Dog Trainer
Canine Behaviour Consultant