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So, for the last month at least, Babby has begun to object when we take stuff away from him. It isn’t all the time. Usually he’s pretty good about it. But sometimes he has his hands on something really interesting but totally inappropriate, and when I take it away from him, he sets up a protesting wail.

Now, when puppies start doing this, it’s time to start on the object exchanges.

The idea behind object exchange is that you need to take things away from your puppy a lot, and either give the object back or replace it with another, better object. This way, when you take something away, your dog doesn’t think it is the end of the universe. He knows that you’re just borrowing the object and if he waits patiently, he’ll get a lot of praise and then get his object returned. Or, if the object isn’t returned, he’ll probably get a treat or another toy in recompense. Besides, he’s learned that he doesn’t have a lot of choice in the matter anyway, so he might as well give up now and accept his reward.

Once you have established this mindset, it is much easier to reclaim your shoe/sock/underwear/dead bird from your dog’s ravenous maw. Often the dog will happily deliver the taboo item right to your hand (although that’s not what you want in the case of a dead bird).

So that’s what I’ve begun to do with Babby.

I felt the best place to start object exchanges would be with his plastic bucket o’ shapes, which is probably full of phthalates. They are low value (because there are lots of them and duplicates of each shape) and easily swapped (you can exchange a red triangle for a green square).

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So every day, when he’s banging stars and circles together, I say “give that to Mommy!” and reach out for one of the shapes. At first I was mostly prying them out of his chubby little fingers, but now he’s getting the idea and he’s starting to actively try to deliver the shape to my hand. He misses a lot, but it’s the thought that counts.

When I have the shape in my hand, I sign “thank you” while saying in an exhuberant voice “THANK you!”. Then I either hand it back or offer him another shape, which I deliver with a happy “you’re welcome!”.

He thought this was fascinating at first, and for a while he was handing back the shape as fast as I could give it to him, just to watch me do my excited pantomime again. Now it’s beginning to bore him, so he’ll often just hand me the shape and go back to playing, without even waiting to get a shape in return.

That means it’s working.

Soon I will move on to reclaiming higher value items, such as toys and maybe even, someday, his food.

The goal is that when he’s a toddler, and I find him clutching a knife/used tampon/bottle of poison/dead bird, I’ll be able to say “give it to Mommy!” and have him deliver it happily.

It works with dogs, anyway.

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