As I type, I have a little dog visiting at my house. He is a darling maltipoo, very bright, too. Bright enough, I believe, that he may have figured out a fool-proof way to get his kind pet parent's attention when he desires it.
Prior to arriving, his pet parent told me that he is "obsessed" with chewing and consuming paper, tissues, and cardboard. Lots of dogs, and particularly puppies, enjoy shredding and sometimes consuming paper products. If just a bit of paper is consumed, it's not likely to be a
concern, but if a dog is ingesting a lot, that could be cause for worry. His mom, naturally, didn't want him to be in
harm's way, so she's been quick to try to get the stuff out of his mouth.
For a dog who's seeking attention or a fun game of "catch me if you can," stealing something taboo can be an excellent strategy. Even if we only interact with the dog briefly in order to retrieve the item, the dog could find this attention rewarding. Even better, if the person chases after him while he carries the item, the dog may consider this a very fun game indeed.
So, what might we do about this? Here are a few possibilities:
Manage carefully to make sure tempting but taboo items are strictly unavailable to the dog.
Notice the dog and give him attention, like joining in some play, when he picks up an approved dog toy.
Leave out a variety of chews, toys, and food puzzles that the dog considers very high value, along with boring paper products (preferably bigger stuff to begin, so the dog can't quickly consume). The decision to select a toy, chew, or food puzzle should be the obvious choice for most dogs.
Teach him a solid 'leave it' skill so you can interrupt him before he grabs a taboo item.
Teach a solid 'drop' skill so he is quick and reliable about letting go of any item in his mouth.
As I work with the maltipoo, I'm employing all the tips above, and after just one day, he's completely ignoring the paper products. Likely, part of the reason is that he doesn't have a history of using the 'attention game' with me. But the work I do with him will still help set the stage for improvements back home. For one thing, he's getting a steady vacation from practicing the undesired (paper-stealing) behavior. And importantly, he's being amply rewarded with attention when he selects an approved dog toy. His days are also enriched with training sessions (including 'leave it' and 'drop training') and dog play.
For a peek at his behavior on his first day, here's a link to a video clip showing him choosing a dental chew over a variety of paper products strewn in a pile. And here's a video clip showing him choosing a dog toy instead of available paper products.
Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers live video consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, along with pre- and post-arrival counseling for new puppy parents.
She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in the northern areas of Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.
Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120