It is important to realize that dogs were originally opportunistic scavengers so thieving is a natural behavior for them. However, in today’s world it is not an acceptable behavior for our pets. Aside from being an annoying and possibly destructive habit, it is also potentially dangerous to your dog.
Dogs steal food or other items for many reasons. It could be because they were never taught any better and it is a self rewarding behavior. When your dog steals, something pleasurable happens. This could be receiving attention from you or getting to eat the food he has stolen. Therefore the behavior is rewarded and reinforced. When a behavior is positively reinforced it is likely to continue. Other reasons for thieving are separation anxiety, boredom, pent up energy, or lack of respect of you as the pack leader.
So what can we do to stop this behavior? Obviously the number one thing we can do is prevention. Keeping food and other items out of reach and locking garbage cans takes away the self-rewarding behavior. Give your dog plenty of physical and mental stimulation. Long walks, doggie daycare, and obedience training are all good options.
Keep your dog on a disciplined schedule. Feed him at set times and only from his own bowl. Never throw scraps to your dog while making or eating dinner. It is a good idea to crate your dog or give a stuffed Kong or bone while you prepare and eat dinner to keep him occupied.
Never yell, hit, chase, or give attention to your dog if he steals something; this is what he wants. Yes, even hitting; although it is negative, it is still attention. Instead, you can calmly teach him to stop and drop objects he shouldn’t have. Give your dog an alternate behavior and reward it. Teach him to go to his place, such as laying quietly on his bed, and give him a treat when he performs the desired behavior.
Reestablish yourself as the pack leader. Teaching some simple basic obedience commands will strengthen your bond and teach your dog to respect you as the alpha.
Another effective method is to “set up” your dog. Put something desirable on the counter and spy on your dog. As he goes for it jump out and give him a spray of water with a water bottle along with a loud “AH-AH.” This will startle your dog—not hurt him—providing an unpleasant experience.
Remember, behaviors that are rewarded are likely to continue. Behaviors that are followed by an undesirable consequence will decease in frequency.
From the Pet Tails Magazine archives; this article was written by Nicole Zarnoch, CCS of Cosmo’s Corner.