This behavioral problem can be remedied, according to our training specialist.

By Jillian Kramer
April 28, 2020
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English Springer Spaniel puppy lying on wooden pallet with his dog toys
Credit: Westend61 / Getty Images

From his own toys to your favorite pair of shoes, your precious pup may have a habit of stealing and guarding objects. And that's perfectly normal, says Elisha Stynchula, a certified dog trainer and owner of I Said Sit! School for Dogs. But why do they do engage in this behavior? Read on.

They're acting on their instincts.

According to Stynchula, dogs act on a much more instinctual level than humans—and "guarding things they covet is a matter of survival for some dogs," she says. If your pup was part of a large litter—or was once a stray on the streets—guarding things food was a knee-jerk behavior that allowed them to survive. Your dog may still have those instincts even when food is plentiful.

They're looking for entertainment.

When allowed to roam freely and unsupervised, dogs, and especially puppies, will find toys—including socks, shoes, and tissue, says Stynchula. But while ripping away your pup's newest entertainment may seem like the best way to curb bad behavior, it may have the opposite effect, encouraging him instead to guard it, Stynchula warns. (He may even growl or bark to protect it.)

They want a taste of your food.

"Dogs and puppies are certainly more likely to guard a high value food or chew item," Stynchula says. And when they learn you keep different kinds of food on your countertops and dining table, they may try to steal and guard that food, she says. "They are… very high value for the dog, so he might be willing to take the risk and steal the item despite any consequence," Stynchula says.

They like your scent.

When it comes to stealing things like your socks, undergarments, and T-shirts, your dog may not be misbehaving; he might simply be missing you. Your scent is strong on these items, Stynchula says, and by stealing and guarding them, your dog is keeping you—or at least your scent—close.

Stealing and guarding behaviors typically are nothing to worry about, unless your dog's guarding behavior becomes aggressive. In that case, Stynchula recommends speaking with a dog trainer.

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