Stealing Shoes

There’s a shoe in the middle of the room. I looked up when I heard the thunk as it hit the floor. Gambit dragged the heavy work shoe from the laundry room into the family room. As I got up from sitting in front of my laptop, picked up the shoe and retrieved a piece of kibble for Gambit, I smiled the whole way. Any time we forget to close the laundry room door there is a shoe in the middle of the floor that is traded for a piece of kibble.

We got some good advice years ago, and it has served us well. “Never take anything from your dog’s mouth; always trade.” The advice seemed a bit crazy at first. Never take anything? What if it’s my expensive shoe? What if my dog could get hurt?

But really, how many serious situations are there? Generally, if Gambit has an item that is worth $100 or less and the item will not cause his immediate death, there is time to get some food for a trade. Gambit just turned 12 months and he came to us 10 months ago loving to put absolutely everything in his mouth. So far, we have never needed to pry open his jaws.

Along with trade, I have taught Gambit “out.” Which in our house means, immediately spit out whatever you have in your mouth. But it all started with trading.

Just this morning on our walk we got to use our “out” cue. The neighborhood fox left a large chunk of chicken wing along our morning path. With a single out cue, Gambit immediately spit the chicken wing out. He has done the same for chicken bones, horse poop and other items he considers precious; gross disgusting things.

When Gambit first arrived at our house as a baby he would find something precious and run off with it. But now he likes to bring his treasures into the TV room to examine them on his bed and often look at me expectantly.

So, does he find items to pick up just so he can get a reward? Maybe, sometimes, maybe. But Gambit already loved picking things up and now he quickly and happily drops them, no growling, no prying open his mouth, no hiding under the bed, no gulping down inappropriate objects as someone screams and runs toward him.

Now, when I give Gambit a new precious bone, he comes to snuggle next to me on the couch and ask me to hold one end so he can chew with his back teeth. He likes to be near me when he has something he thinks is important. And if his bone starts to splinter, I simply say “out” and reward him with a piece of kibble.

Trade, don’t take, is likely the best dog advice I have ever been given.


*Gambit has been traded for items since the day we got him; some dogs will need more incentive than kibble. If your dog is growling at you or stiffening when you approach and he has something, please step away and contact a dog trainer.

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