It's happened to nearly every dog owner. You're enjoying an evening in front of Netflix, shoveling your favorite chips into your mouth, and then it happens. Your dog goes running by with your favorite designer shoes or the important work document you need to turn in on Monday. Chances are, your pooch isn't stealing your things as some kind of malicious revenge plot. The simple truth is that most dogs steal your things because they are bored and have too much energy to burn. Even so, the habit is one that could cost a lot of money and even pose a threat to your pet's health. This is why it's important to fix your dog's petty theft problem as soon as you notice it.
Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise to tire him out in the evenings or while you're at work. This is especially true for young dogs, although it's important to remember that "young" varies depending on the breed. Large dogs typically don't live as long as small ones, so a 5-year-old Saint Bernard will act older than (and need less exercise than) a 5-year-old Jack Russell Terrier. Young dogs need at least one hour of running, walks, time at the dog park, or another aerobic exercise per day. Regardless of size, dogs that were bred for hunting or other types of work also need more activity, and are among some of the most likely breeds to begin stealing things if they don't get enough exercise and play time.
One of the biggest reasons your dog steals things is because he is looking for new toys to play with. After a while, the same rope toys or chewing bones can become boring for your pet. To keep him from stealing things that aren't his, ensure he has a wide variety of mentally stimulating toys to play with at all times. Interactive toys are available in several styles to help you pet stay stimulated. Choose hard rubber toys that you can fill with treats, Velcro puzzles that your dog needs to pull apart, or wobbly toys that move with your dog's movement to keep him curious and interested. If you're feeling ambitious, you can even purchase mechanical toys that your dog can load with his tennis balls, allowing him to play fetch on his own for as long as he'd like.
In addition to toys, don't forget to provide your pet with reward-based training. It not only keeps his mind occupied but also ensures he listens well to your commands and is a polite, happy, and safe member of your family. Spending just 10 minutes a day teaching your pet to sit, stay, or shake provides them with attention as well. Dogs are social pets and require daily attention to thrive, so avoid skipping training or play time. Even better, you can also use this time to teach your pet a command such as "drop it" or "leave it." This way, if he does get his paws on your stuff, you can command him to let it go without feeling you need to chase him around the house.
Dogs will be dogs. Even if you provide dozens of toys and hours of one-on-one time each day, sometimes your pooch will just want to get into mischief. You can nip his thievery in the bud by cleaning up after yourself. Instead of kicking your shoes off at the door, put them in a closet or an ottoman that has hidden storage. Avoid leaving bread, cereal, and snacks on the counter and put them in the pantry or cabinets instead. Dogs also love dirty laundry, so be sure to put your clothes in the hamper at the end of the day. If your dog is prone to chewing, you may also need to tape up electronics cords and add a chew deterrent to furniture. The more you puppy- or dog-proof your home, the less likely your pet is to steal and chew on your things.
Dogs are sneaky creatures, and chances are yours will get his paws on something you don't want him to have on occasion, regardless of how socialized he is and how much you puppy-proof. If you do catch you dog with something he shouldn't have, it is important to know how to react. The first thing to remember is not to chase him. Whe your dog has something that he thinks is a toy, chasing him reinforces this thought because he'll think you're trying to play a game with him. It is also important to avoid shouting, as he could get scared and run or even become defensive and feel the need to protect himself.
If the object the dog has isn't expensive and won't hurt him, it's actually a better idea to simply ignore him. He's likely grabbed your things to try to get attention, and giving it to him can reinforce the behavior. Ignoring him when possible shows he doesn't get "rewarded" for stealing. Sometimes, though, your dog will steal something that could hurt him or that would be too expensive to replace. In these situations, try to distract or even bribe your dog. Pretend you've found something interesting at the other side of the room, throw his toy or pick up his leash for a walk, or even offer him a treat if he brings you the item.
Remember, just like human children, dogs take time to develop their social skills and learn manners. Don't give up your pooch if it takes one, two, or a dozen or more times to get it "right." Eventually, your positive reinforcement and redirection will pay off, leaving your shoes safe and your pooch happy.