Understanding why dogs steal other dog's toys requires placing ourselves in Rover's mind so to better understand what may be going on in there. Of course, until dogs can talk, we can only make some educated assumptions as to what is going on. Dogs are blessed with different personalities and therefore the intent from one dog and another may vary considerably, If your dog is stealing toys and this is leading to fight, consult with a behavior professional for a careful assessment and tips on how to better manage the situation to keep everyone safe.
Why Do Dogs Steal Other Dogs Toys?
Let's face it: sharing is not really something dogs naturally know how to do well. Just like toddlers, dogs seem to scream out "mine! mine! mine!" when it comes to valuable resources such as toys. Sharing is for the most part a uniquely human trait that is taught by teachers and parents who spend time in coaching toddlers to understand the basics of compassion and altruism and the associated good feelings that come from sharing.
Dogs are quite different. Resource guarding among dogs is an adaptive trait that has been linked survival and therefore it has been passed down from one generation to another.This is because dogs, being predators, in the past, had to rely on resources that may have been in short supply at certain times of year which ultimately made them extra valuable. Guarding the food from other animals including other dogs, therefor made the difference between life and death.While our beloved dogs are far from starving nowadays, these instincts still prevail.
While sharing is considered a noble trait among humans, dogs should therefore not be expected to share as it happens among humans. But why do dogs steal other dogs' toys?
Dogs are blessed with their own individual personalities and they may be several reasons behind their stealing agenda. Generally, dogs may steal other dogs toys as a form of play, just because they can get away with it, and to be bullies who will also resort to aggression should the other dog object.
"Dogs, being predators, come programmed to guard resources that are crucial to their survival as part of their behavioral inheritance from their ancestor, the wolf... This is usually not true for grazing animals in terms of food - after all, what's the point of arousing yourself to look after your supply of grass when grass is everywhere? " Grisha Stewart
A Dog Stealing Toys From Other Dogs in Play
Play behavior among dogs can sometimes get quite rough and even out of hand. Many dog owners have a hard time recognizing dogs who are playing from dogs who are fighting or have the intent to fight.
A dog stealing toys in play may often do so to provoke the other dog in a fun game of chase. It often goes like this: Dog A may be lying down chewing on a toy when he gets distracted by a noise. He gets up to check on the source of the sound and next thing he knows, dog B has caught it and is not running away with it. With dog B now in "hot pursuit" he has created a fun game of "keep away" or "catch me if you can."
If the stealing behavior often leads to dog A chasing him, this stealing behavior will have reinforced. The end result? Dog B will engage in more and more stealing behaviors just for the fun of it.
At some point though, dog B may get impatient on those days that dog A doesn't leave the toy. Some dogs may get quite creative here. My dog has even gone ahead at rushing and barking at the door enticing dog A to come and check things out, and then rushing to steal the toy, or even starting to bark and then howl, knowing that dog A will join in the chorus and drop the toy.
Usually dogs who steal as part of a game will engage in typical dog play behaviors and these include play bows, high-pitched barks and loose body movements. The dog in the picture above may have "stolen the toy" and running off with it, in a fun game of "keep away."
A Dog Stealing Toys "Just Because He Can"
Relationships among dogs often are based to a great extend on what they can and cannot get away with it. When two unfamiliar dogs are introduced in the household, they will be testing each other over several days to understand how each will react to a given situation. Access to resources (food, toys, owner's attention, sleeping spots) is often something that requires careful evaluation.
Now, not all dogs stick the same value to resources. Resources may have a different "price tag" among dogs. This is what makes relationships among dogs rather fluid rather than fixed. Dog A may care less if Dog B steals a toy from him, but he may be extra cautious when approaching dog dog A while he is eating.
Some dogs may therefore allow the other dog to get away with some behaviors and this may include having their toys stolen from under their nose. Now, we don't know for sure what's going on their minds but it may be something along these lines "Want my soggy, slimy toy? Go for it, I can care less about it!" or perhaps there may be some fear/resentment "Want my toy? Get it, it's not worth it arguing over it and risk getting hurt."
Whether things remain the same over the years or not, depends on several factors. Dogs are not always predictable. A dog may wake up one day and finally object to having his toy stolen. This may often happen when dogs reach social maturity, become more confident and start "standing up" for themselves. This can lead to a noisy squabble or even a serious fight.
A More Serious Type of Stealing
Sometimes, a dog stealing other dogs toys is doing so to be a bully. This dog may use threatening displays to get what he wants. The body language is "serious" here with the dog's body stiff and an intimidating posture.
The dog may have an arsenal of increasing threat displays. The dog may start with a growl denoting "Give me your toy or else..." then, if the growl goes unheeded, the dog may progress to an air snap, which is technically a bite that the dog deliberately "misses" and then next, may even come a bite, which is hopefully inhibited (no damage is done).
This type of behavior may have evolved over time after rehearsing it with several dogs. It may start with a dog stealing toys "just because he can" generalizing then to other dogs and expecting the same outcome.
Because several mellow dogs find it unproductive to fight back, the dog soon learns to steal more and more and the behavior gains a reinforcement history (access to the resource).
Big problems start though when the other dog objects which may lead to two outcomes: the dog attempting to steal to change his mind and withdraw-"OK, my apologies, I changed my mind, I no longer want your toy!" or fight back -"What did you just say?"
Dogs prone to stealing therefore should not be taken to dog parks and opportunities to steal from other dogs should be minimized to prevent mishaps and unnecessary heartaches.