Where are those gloves I bought yesterday? Have you seen my slippers today? You may want to check your dog’s bed or the spot he/ her likes to rest during the day.
Whether we like it or not, dogs are opportunists (polite name for thieves!). They don’t understand the concept of sharing and, given half a chance, will sneak off with anything that takes their fancy. Outside of food items they will likely take things that either have your own smell on them or smell of leather. To them it’s a game and, if caught, will hope that this will result in a game of chase. If they are feeling a little insecure, to get hold of something smelling of you may well help them relax as they relate your smell with security. To scold them for taking your things is a pointless and self-defeating activity. The dog’s logic goes something like this: “there’s an item that’s been left out. This item is clearly not wanted otherwise it wouldn’t be lying there. It smells good and I fancy playing with or chewing it, so why not take it?”
So what can you do to prevent on-going theft? First of all, don’t leave things that you care about lying around otherwise it’s “game on” for your dog. Next, establish boundaries for your dog: if you don’t want him/ her getting into your closet and stealing stuff, don’t given them access to the closet. This can very much apply to the kitchen area at home where food can sometimes miraculously disappear if Fido is left alone to roam. For the larger dogs particularly, keep stuff that you don’t want stolen away from the edge of counter tops.
One way of turning a negative action (stealing) into a positive outcome (reclaiming said stolen item) can happen if your dog is carrying the stolen item around in its mouth. This is a perfect scenario for teaching the “leave it” command: as soon as your dog releases said stolen item, praise them like crazy. Do this a few times and your dog will start to associate getting a reward with releasing the stolen item. Unless you have a very shrewd dog, it is unlikely they will deliberately steal something just so they can be rewarded when they release it. There are too many dots to connect in a dog’s mind for this to happen.
When left for long periods by themselves or you are not providing enough mental stimulation, your dog may become bored and turn to stealing as a way of relieving their boredom. It becomes even more important in this scenario to not leave stuff lying around that could be wrecked by your dog and to provide your dog with an appropriate outlet for their mental energy. Doggy toys or puzzles that require some mental dexterity before releasing a treat are a popular way to go. Some people believe in leaving a radio on for their dog when they are away from the home or leaving the television on so their dog can watch its favourite animal program.
One thing I am totally against is to put a muzzle on your dog to avoid it chewing. Your dog needs to be able to drink and eat its own food when you are not around. Fix the real problem behind your dog’s stealing by managing access to items not to be touched and providing enough mental stimulation that your dog forgets all about being an opportunist.