Dogs stealing and scavenging inside and outside the home is an all too common problem and one that is infuriating for owners and potentially dangerous for the dog. Unfortunately owner reactions are generally instinctive towards this issue, led with emotional responses of vocalisation and chasing of the dog. This invariably results in destruction of said object or in severe cases ‘swallowing’ or development of possession aggression. Either way, action is necessary if the problem is to be controlled and ultimately eradicated.
Firstly it should be remembered that this behaviour is totally normal for the dog, they are by nature ‘Scavengers’, therefore whatever they find is a prize. They have no perception of the term ‘Stealing’ nor care about it. The action is purely a means to an end.
That said the behaviour will quickly become associated with human responses. Remember, your dog is aware of your actions, everything you do is absorbed by your dog through a process of association, everything you touch or take notice of is relevant and considered ‘high prize’ to your dog. If you want it, your dog will want it, this makes them feel close to you.
Some breeds of dog are prone to this behaviour and it is common in working retrieval breeds. However, just about any breed of dog has the potential to display this primitive, survival trait and new owners need to be aware that this is a likely behaviour problem to occur requiring early intervention.
Common Objects Stolen
- Children’s toys and clothing
- Owners slippers/ shoes/ underwear
- Magazines/ newspapers
WHY? Reasons for stealing
The motivation for stealing objects will depend on many affecting factors such as age, breed, environmental and dog-owner relationship in relation to:
- Lack of direction, positive stimulation
Your dog wants to have a possession, maybe to play with it, chew it, use as an outlet for boredom or frustration. Whatever the motivation, your dog has taken the object because it wanted it, not because it was aware this was ‘theft’ and a criminal offence!
It is of the upmost importance during any training program that the dog is prevented from continuing habitual behaviour while a new association, away from the scavenging, is set.
There are various physical aids available to intercept and control this problem while training begins, but I recommend the Gencon training lead. This gives immediate and effective control of the head, allowing for the owner to keep control during training and encourage focus onto a positive reward such as with a ball or high prize treat, without placing unnecessary physical demands on the dog. Used correctly this is the least invasive head collar on the market and ideal for providing the opportunity to exercise the dog during difficult behaviour patterns. Physical and mental stimulation.
There is no substitute for regular and appropriate exercise to create both mental and physical stimulation. Ensuring a good mix of on and off lead work will provide the dog with relevant control and an opportunity for an owner to apply direction and leadership.
In the home the dog should have key toys to focus on, a stuffed Kong or Nyla bone make great attention keepers, and are especially good when kept in the fridge or freezer, this helps teething puppies cope with the pain and adult dogs are kept entertained for longer.
- Teaching ‘leave it’
Teaching simple commands with positive reward such as leave it and drop will help establish communication.
- Distraction/ Trade
Avoiding a confrontational scenario is the ideal, so utilising distraction or trading the object for something more desirable is an option to avoid the problem escalating.
What ‘not’ to do
Never focus on the object
Never reward by immediate association
Never shout or become physical
Always be aware that underlying medical conditions can trigger sudden behaviour changes. This article is a general overview/ guidance and is no replacement for a professional assessment or Veterinary recommendation.
About the Author
Jo Croft VN MCFBA GoDT runs a canine behaviour and training consultancy business. She is a full member of the Canine and Feline Behaviour Association and Master Trainer with the Guild of Dog Trainers. In the summer of 2015 she graduates from Middlesex University with a Masters Degree in Canine Psychology and Trainer.Check out Jo’s site Dogs Logic HERE.
Jo is a huge fan of the Gencon range of Dog head collars that are designed to help stop dogs pulling, check out the collection of Gencon dog head collars today.