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The playful bow, the coy side eye, the jumping away, and re-engaging expressions with a wagging tail are all signs that your dog is trying to play keep away with you. Maybe they have a toy in their mouth or something they should not have like a shoe, or maybe they want you to chase them for the thrill of it. This is a dog that has learned to love to play keep away all the time.
However much fun your dog is having, it is often a frustrating game for you as your dog’s owner, especially if your dog has something they are not supposed to have or you are stuck chasing them when you want to catch them.
So why does your dog only want to play keep away all the time, even if you are frustrated?
Playing keep away with a toy, something they are not supposed to have, or wanting to play chase, means a dog is having fun and does not want to stop. They have been conditioned that by playing keep away, the game keeps going. They have not learned how to disengage and come back to you.
Keep away is a natural play behavior for dogs and they learn from a young age whether or not you will engage with them. If you are having issues with your dog playing keep away all the time, you can try to positively reinforce and engage them in more appropriate play behaviors.
Why Does My Dog Want To Play Keep Away?
Keep away is a game that many dogs love to play, both with humans and with other dogs. Since chasing is a natural instinct in dogs, they do not have to be taught to play keep away. Puppies naturally engage in keep away with each other and since they are learning to build their friendship and bond with their owners, they will often try to get their owners to play keep away as well, especially if they are bored. And if they never learn a different play behavior, they might only want to play keep away all the time.
Reason 1: Puppy Fun
Keep away is a classic puppy game. Puppies are notorious for stealing items and running circles around you and not letting you take them back. It is a natural behavior for them to play other dogs, just like this Shiba Inu playing keep away with a toy and other puppies.
Puppies do not automatically know “leave-it” or “drop-it;” so they will instinctively try to play keep away with their human friends as well. If you fail to teach your puppy to give you something valuable, whether it is a sock or a dog toy, your furry friend could grow up continuing to play keep away all the time.
Many dogs who play keep away, frustrating their owners with their coy antics, have never learned a better game to play. It is important to start training the behaviors you want in your puppy as soon as they come home. By setting boundaries and guiding them to choose appropriate behaviors, you will have an easier time training and living with your dog as they mature out of the much tougher puppy stages.
Reason 2: Chase and Keep Away
A good game of keep away, either with their owner or other dogs, usually involves chase! Most dogs love to chase because they have a natural instinct to like to chase and be chased, especially herding dogs and those with a high prey drive. If you always chase your dogs when they play keep away with you, your dog learns not only that they can get away with it but that you will engage with them. Chase is a self-rewarding behavior and if they can get you to join in by playing keep away all the time it is even more fun for them!
Reason 3: Boredom: Your Dog Wants To Play
If your dog has learned from puppyhood that they can get you to engage by grabbing a shoe or piece of trash and you will chase them, they might continue to engage in this behavior whenever they are bored. Even if you are not having fun and are annoyed, your dog is enjoying a good game that is self-rewarding. If a dog is constantly bugging you to play, whether it is keep-away or other games, they might be bored.
The longer they can keep you chasing and playing keep away, the longer they can put off the consequences. If you are annoyed when you finally catch them, they learn that it is better not to be caught.
Reason 4: Your Dog Does Not Want To Be Caught
Dogs learn quickly that when they are caught, the fun is about to end. I think we can all relate to that person at the park whose dog will not come when called to be leashed up. As soon as the dog is caught, the fun will end and it is time to go home. The game of keep away when trying to get your dog leashed up is especially frustrating.
A dog also might not want to be caught if they have a valuable treat, toy, or resource. Maybe they found a delicious piece of garbage on a walk and they will not give it up. Playing keep away is a fun way to keep you from stealing their treasure. If your dog has trouble with being caught, Kikopup has a great video on how to build recall with distractions.
Keep away is more fun than playing by your rules, being caught, or having their toy taken away. A dog has to learn to come to you or trade a toy positively. If you are angry when they finally let you catch them, they will learn to spend more time playing keep away, maybe even out of fear or anxiety. Would you want to be caught if the fun ends AND your owner is mad at you?
What To Do When Your Dog Only Wants To Play Keep Away?
A dog that only wants to play keep away can be incredibly frustrating, both for the owner and the dog. The frustration of a misbehaving dog can ruin the joy of dog ownership, and many dogs will shut down and not want to engage if their owners are showing negative emotions. This clash can deteriorate your relationship with your dog and make it harder to train them.
So how can you turn the game of keep away into an acceptable behavior? First of all, be positive and fun, and try not to shout at your dog (Trust me, I know how hard it is if they are playing keep-away with an expensive leather shoe)! Keep away is a game, so try a different, but still fun, game that engages them to be closer and interact with you.
Ways To Play With Your Dog That Are Not Keep Away
There are lots of engaging ways to play with your dog that can condition them to stop playing keep away. If your dog likes to play keep away with toys, try some of these games instead:
- Play tug with the toy (remember to let your dog win so they keep having fun, otherwise they will keep playing keep away!)
- Train your dog to play fetch. Do not chase your dog if you want them to learn to fetch. You are just reinforcing the keep away game.
- Try a flirt pole to wear out that excess energy and for exercise. Flirt poles are great for dogs with strong prey drive like pitbulls and other terriers and hounds. Here is a great video on how to properly use a flirt pole.
- Train leave it or drop it. Trade whatever they are trying to play keep away with for a more appropriate toy, a treat, or verbal praise and pets. This is a behavior to start training as soon as your dog comes to live with you. Positive reinforcement training is incredibly engaging for dogs, and if you treat it like a fun game they will enjoy it as much as keep away!
What if your dog is playing keep away all the time because they do not want to be caught?
- Be FUN! Your dog will not want to come to you if you are angry, always be happy when your dog decides to come and be caught!
- Do not always catch your dog and immediately leash them up; catch your dog then play more. Your dog will learn that recall does not mean the game is ending, it is actually a part of the game! Instead of being mad when you catch your dog, offer them a treat, give them a snuggle, or let them play a little more.
If the fun does not end every single time you take something away from them or catch them, your dog will learn to happily come to you every time you call them instead of playing keep away all the time.
To Play Keep Away Or To Not Play Keep Away?
Since many dogs seem to enjoy keep away so much, is it necessarily bad to play keep away? The short answer is, no, it is not bad to play keep away! As long as you and your dog are safe and you can catch your dog, there is no reason not to play keep away.
If it is fun for you and your dog, it is okay to incorporate keep away into your arsenal of games to play. Playing is a fantastic way to create a lasting bond and connection with your dog. They learn you are fun, they can trust you, and they find the experience rewarding. So as long as your dog has impulse control and they are not in danger of running away or chewing up something forbidden, go ahead and play keep away.
Other fun games to incorporate with keep away with your dog include hide-in-seek and tag! Always end a good game of keep away with catching your dog so they learn that is the goal. Reward them by playing tug, giving them treats, or giving them lots of praise and pets. You always want your dog to be excited to come to you, so if there is an emergency they will be conditioned to come straight to you.
With an out-of-control dog, playing keep away all of the time can be frustrating or even dangerous. They could run away from you, eat something they should not get into, or even embarrass you at the park with their rambunctious antics.
Luckily there are ways to condition your dog to play and engage with you that do not involve keep away. Playing tug, fetch, and recall games all tap into that instinct to chase and be chased while still being under control and connecting to you. And if you can trust your dog to be well-behaved, why not play a little keep away? You might find you like it!