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So, your dog is stealing your socks? Well, I’ve been there, and got (and lost) the t-shirt. It happens. I’m pretty sure that any dog who’s ever caught sight of something that appealed to him has stolen. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many things Leroy has stolen – socks, pop bottles, hand lotion, shoes, groceries, and even my cell phone. He’s never outgrown the habit, either – if something goes missing, the first place I look is under Leroy’s favorite pillow.
If you’re constantly saying “My dog is stealing my socks!” the first thing you need to know is that this is perfectly normal behavior. There’s no dark, nasty motivation. He just steals stuff because he’s energetic. Or maybe you’re not giving him enough attention. Or he just likes the way the stolen object feels in his mouth.
The issue here, though, is that you want to solve the problem, and there are several ways of going about it.
Sometimes, very active, young dogs, steal. It’s not that he’s perverse; it’s just that he’s bored. If you have a hunting breed, you can probably channel his “stealing” into outdoor exercise. Other dogs that like to be active also won’t be happy hanging out on the couch, so they’ll look for other ways to be amused – in other words, they’ll start stealing.
So, exercise is the cure. The other part of the cure is mental stimulation. A bored dog is going to be a thieving dog. You hate being bored, right? So does your dog. So give him your time – play with him and focus on him, and chances are, the stealing will become less of a problem.
Another way that you can stimulate your dog mentally is by offering challenging toys, like Kong toys that allow you to put treats inside the toy. If you have a dog that really requires a lot of mental stimulation, you can also freeze the treats before you put them in the Kong toy – that’s going to make for a lot more work on the part of the dog, and considerably more mental stimulation.
The idea here is that the dog has to work to get the treat out of its “prison.” While he’s doing that, he’s not counter surfing, not investigating the garbage, and you’re not saying “My dog is stealing my socks!”
What this means is simply that you do things, proactively, that will prevent the need to say “My dog is stealing my socks.” If he’s doing it, chances are it’s your fault. You’ve left your socks laying around. So here’s the thing – educate yourself. You need to know that laundry goes in a laundry hamper or bag. It doesn’t get left on the floor, or on your bed, or in other places that laundry just doesn’t belong. Pick up after yourself, and that way you’ll never find yourself in the position of saying “My dog is stealing my socks.”
You can also take this a step further to stop other bad behavior on the part of your dog. Remember that leftover food goes in containers, and then in the fridge. It doesn’t get left on the table or countertop. Uneaten popcorn doesn’t belong on the coffee table in front of the television.
Dogs are scavengers, plain and simple, and if you leave stuff out, they will… well. scavenge. Don’t be the author of your own misfortune.
One of the best commands you can teach your dog is “Leave it.” I’ve talked about this in House Training an Older Dog. If you can’t be bothered to pick up after yourself, then this is going to be an essential command.
Now, if your dog does steal something, then you’re going to have to stay cool. Pull back and regroup. Don’t shout – that’s not going to get you anywhere. It’s just going to scare your dog and make him less inclined to obey you. Don’t grab him, don’t “alpha roll” him, and don’t try to pull his jaws open to make him give you whatever he’s stolen. If you do this, then you’re just going to make him want to guard the object, and you could end up being snapped at, or even bitten. Dogs can sometimes be very protective of things that they think belong to them.
If the object your dog has stolen isn’t of high value, don’t react to the theft. Instead, offer something in exchange. If he’s picked up something that he shouldn’t have, offer a high-value treat. Chances are he’ll drop whatever he has in favor of getting the treat. Then, tell him what a good boy he is. If it’s a matter of “my dog is stealing my socks,” you can probably assume that once he sees something that’s more interesting, the socks will go by the wayside.
In the final analysis, stealing isn’t the end of the world. It’s in a dog’s nature to see something desirable, and think “I want this!” Respect that, and don’t over-react. Just offer something to your dog, and take back what’s yours. It doesn’t have to be a big confrontational thing. Trust me, “My dog is stealing my socks” isn’t the end of the world.
So, is your dog a thief? What has he stolen? How did you deal with it? Leave a comment!