Having a furry four-legged family member in your household sure comes with a lot of positives and interesting experiences. From being surrounded by endless enthusiasm and canine cuddles to having a reliable jogging buddy and even occasionally finding little gifts in the most unexpected places. Alright, so the last one might not necessarily be considered a positive by all pet parents, especially when they are running late and rushing out the door only to discover a handful of treats or a dehydrated sweet potato in their shoe. But it sure does make life more interesting. So, why do dogs put food in shoes and should we really feel flattered?
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The Root of the Behavior
While it would be so heartwarming to think that our canine companions love us and care so much about our well being and our calorie intake that they purposefully and selflessly leave snacks in our shoes for us to take to work - unfortunately, that is most likely not the case. Though some dogs do bring their owners gifts from time to time, dogs most often put food in shoes for an entirely different reason. Dogs are natural hoarders. To survive in the wild, dogs and their ancestors had to store food that they found or hunted for later consumption in case it was more scarce another day. While domesticated dogs don’t usually have that problem as they are guaranteed to receive their meals a few times per day and regularly, they still have that uncertainty and caching mentality. Though it is a natural instinct, the behavior can be further intensified if there are other dogs in the household. To make sure your dogs feel safe while eating and don’t go into resource guarding mode, try separating them during meal times to remove the feeling of competition.
If your pooch is the only four-legged family member, make sure you are not overfeeding him as that can also sometimes lead to storing food for later. The behavior is quite common and should not be concerning unless accompanied by signs of food aggression. These include growling, snapping, or acting overly possessive of the shoe that the food is in. If your dog exhibits any of those, consult a dog trainer to deal with the behavior before it turns into a more serious problem. Though less common, another reason dogs put food in shoes is to claim territory. While it seems like a better alternative than having your dog urinate in your shoe to claim it as his, it is not something to be ignored. If your dog puts food in your shoes and shows other dominating behavior as well, such as disobeying, not following commands, demand barking, or any sort of aggression, consult a dog trainer for professional support.
Encouraging the Behavior
Whether you want to allow your dog to leave treats in your shoes will depend on your individual situation. If your pooch stores food in your shoes but does not show any signs of food aggression and does not try to dominate you in any way then the behavior is not harmful or concerning. However, if it bothers you, there are ways to stop it from happening. Firstly, make sure to feed your dog when he is in a calm, peaceful state. Hyperactive and excited dogs are more likely to play with their food as well as have the energy for the hoarding.
It is best to feed your dog approximately 20 minutes after going on a long walk with your dog to minimize the behavior and encourage a calm state. Another important tip is to remove any leftover food your dog has not managed to eat. This means that as soon as your furry friend has had enough or walked away from the food bowl - it is time to place it outside of his reach. The key to making this work is remaining consistent and not giving in to your dog’s behavior. If the food bowl is not in his reach, there is no way he can store some for later in your shoe.
Other Solutions and Considerations
While for most dogs the behavior of putting food in shoes is instinctual, it is something they can learn to stop with the proper training and consistency. However, it is important to remember that some dogs, especially adopted shelter dogs might have previous negative experiences related to food (or lack thereof) and may take more patience and effort to change. Most rescue dogs have experienced a lot of hardship in their lives, which sometimes can reflect on their behavior and increase chances of food guarding. These dogs might need more patience, care, and love to begin with but they make wonderful companions and four-legged family members.
As a dog owner, there are far less pleasant things to discover than some kibble in your shoe. However, do not worry if your dog’s hoarding behavior becomes an annoyance. Remember that it is instinctual and can be diminished with proper dog training. Until then, think of if as little gifts left by your furry friend.