When your dog has a high-value item (like a special treat, favorite toy, or chew), it’s important to help them feel relaxed and comfortable if they’re approached. Taking items away from your dog can cause stress, anxiety, and expressions of aggression.
Thankfully, there is a process we call “the trade game” which will help you both feel more at ease. This game can be played with toys and household items that your dog often picks up, but it should not be played during mealtime.
To teach your dog the trade game, you’ll want to first teach him that good things happen when you approach, so keep a few treats in your pocket and – as your dog is laying down – drop a treat off and walk away. Do this for a few days and then begin our five-step process below.
- While your dog is playing with a toy or bone, throw a few treats in their direction. Keep your distance and do not approach. If they readily eat the pieces that you toss, progress to step two.
- Next, approach your dog (always be watching their body language in case they express discomfort). Drop a few treats on the ground next to them and then walk away. Once again, if they readily eat the treats progress to step 3.
- Toss a couple of treats a few feet away from them. If they get up, walk to the treats, and eat them at a slower pace before casually walking back to their toy, you are ready for the next step. If not and they’re racing back to their toy or not leaving it at all, continue to practice steps 1-3 until they do.
- Toss a few treats a few feet away from your dog. While they are eating the treats, pick up their toy. When they return back to you, give them back their toy.
- Now your dog should be readily trading items for treats. Add a verbal cue onto the behavior such as “drop it” or “out.” Say your verbal cue, toss your treats, and pick up the item. Soon enough the verbal cue will predict food for your dog and they will happily let go of the item!