Why does my dog... steal things?
It can be pretty frustrating when your things go missing, but worse when you find out that it’s your loyal pooch whose been hoarding your belongings or chewing them up. So, why do dogs steal things, and is there a way to stop this behaviour?
Stealing things is a very normal canine behaviour. Dogs, especially adolescents, are naturally curious and will pick things up to see if they can eat it or play with it. Possession is ten tenths of the law in the canine world and it is actually us humans that are extremely being rude in dog language attempting to snatch their treasures from them! This misunderstanding is what can turn normal doggy stealing into quite serious guarding behaviour.
So, what are the main reasons why your dog steals things and how can you prevent it from happening?
Your dog is a puppy
Puppies go through exploratory phases, just like human toddlers. If your puppy has access to something and it gets chewed up, then sorry, but it's your fault for leaving it within reach! Puppy pens and dog proof rooms will keep your little one out of trouble when you're not around to watch them fully. Provide plenty of “legal” objects for them to play with and destroy in their safe areas. As your puppy matures, you can slowly allow them more freedom using your voice to gently direct them towards appropriate things to put in their mouths if they hone in on something inappropriate.
Your dog is bored
The most common reason why do dogs steal things is lack of attention or entertainment. Dogs will very quickly learn that if they pick up a certain item, the human will play a ruddy good game of chase with them. Make sure that your dog has had enough physical exercise AND mental exercise so they can relax properly.
Too much physical exercise without balancing it with enrichment such as sniffing, chewing and brain training can cause an adrenaline hangover, leading to hyperactive behaviour in the evenings. There are lots of different ways to keep your dog entertained including all manner of puzzle toys and home made challenges.
When you spot your dog with that glint in their eye looking like they're about to do something dramatic to get your attention, be proactive and guide them towards a more appropriate activity, like giving a child a colouring book! If your dog is a persistent chewer - explore this behaviour and how to solve it here.
Your dog is a working breed
Dogs bred for certain jobs have an increased desire to hunt, hold and destroy things. The key to preventing these natural instincts getting out of hand is to make sure you are channelling them into a more positive activity.
For hunters you can get involved with scent work, teaching your dog to sniff out and find his toys hidden around the house. For retrievers you can teach them to, well, retrieve! Changing the game from “I pick up sock, I run away with sock” to “I pick up sock, I bring sock to human” can completely transform your thief into a very helpful companion.
For terriers that live to destroy, save your cardboard recycling and fold a yummy treat into it, pass the parcel style. Now sit back and relax while your little dog annihilates the package with a big grin on his face! Watch our online episodes on these topics below:
You've (accidentally) taught your dog to steal specific items
From a young age our dogs learn the run away with some items and not bother with others, but how do they know the difference between that stick from the garden and our favourite slipper?
The key is the way WE HUMANS react to the dog. Very quickly a dog learns that certain items get certain reactions from us. They learn that when they have that item and we approach them, it's to take it off them, so naturally they evolve strategies to avoid us stealing THEIR treasure.
To undo these associations you can teach your dog that hands come to give, not to take. Whenever your dog has something and you approach, chuck a bit of food to them, so they see you approaching as a good thing. When you need to get something from your dog in an emergency, call your dog to you, rather than going over to them and always trade something better for their item.
It is much better to coax your dog away from the item (and retrieve it later when they're not looking) than trying to prise something out of their mouth and trigger more serious guarding or accidental ingestion of the object.
If your dog is showing any aggression around their stolen items, contact a professional to nip the behaviour in the bud before it escalates!