Does your dog like to “help” with the laundry? Or take advantage of your shower time to claim your socks for his own? If so, you are not alone. Many dogs enjoy stealing their owners' clothing, and they are not always gentle about it. Some dogs gnaw and tear at the clothing that they steal, while others simply turn it into their favorite toy. If you are lucky, though, your dog may prefer simply to take your clothing to bed to sleep on it.
So why does your dog choose your clothing for these nefarious, if adorable, purposes? There are a number of different motivating factors that experts believe may contribute, though each dog will do so for his or her own reasons. Here are just a few.
The Root of the Behavior
The stealing behavior itself may be a manifestation of your dog's natural instinct toward scavenging.In an earlier evolutionary stage when dogs sought out things that smelled appealing because it might be a tasty meal or a fun toy. Although they have now been domesticated for many generations, many dogs retain this instinct more intensely than others. So why laundry?
First, dogs tend to like things that are soft. This also stems from their evolutionary history, which drew them toward the rabbits, rats, and other small furry creatures that make for good prey. Chewing on socks feels to a dog much like chewing on the fur of their favorite prey.
If your clothes are anything other than freshly washed, your dog is probably stealing them because they smell like you. According to a study published in the journal Genome Biology, dogs have a much more heightened sense of smell than humans and depend on their noses to send and receive messages among their packs. When you wear clothing, it picks up a scent that is unique and close to you. Dogs interpret this to mean that it is an important item, and your leaving it behind means that you have given it to him.
You may have noticed that when your dog steals your laundry, he then goes and cuddles with it. For him, this is a way of feeling close to you. It is also a way of melding his scent with yours, an instinctual behavior that may explain why your dog has an attraction even to clean laundry. When he lies close to items of yours, he is bonding his pack together.
Of course, some dogs steal laundry simply because they are looking for something to do. Dogs who don't get enough positive physical and mental stimulation tend to make their own fun. And just like human children, that fun may be more destructive than adult humans might prefer.
Encouraging the Behavior
So, should you be worried about your dog stealing your clothing? It all depends on what he is doing with it. If he is stealing your clothing simply to lie down with it, and you don't mind him having it for a while, you can just “let sleeping dogs lie.” In fact, some owners purposefully give their dogs items of clothing to sleep with if the dog is feeling insecure or if the owner is away.
If your dog is stealing your clothes in a more destructive fashion, then you definitely have reason to try to discourage the habit. Correcting an instinctual behavior can be very difficult, so many owners choose the path of relatively least resistance and simply keep their clothes out of their dogs' reach. Of course, dogs are good at finding a way, so you will also need to figure out how to get the clothing back. Try not to chase him, as this might encourage the behavior, and definitely avoid yelling and intimidating the dog, which can damage your relationship. Instead, offer him a treat or invite him to play with one of his toys with you in exchange for dropping the stolen clothing. Incentives like this can not only encourage your dog to return the item in the future, but also show him the way you would prefer him to ask for your attention.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If boredom is the culprit, you may need to play with your dog more at times when he is not stealing your clothing. You can also try giving him some engaging new toys, such as those he has to work at to get treats from inside, but remember not to introduce them all at once. You can keep him entertained for longer if his toys seem like a novelty. You also need to be aware of whether your dog is prizing your clothing so much that he is actually eating it. This can become a serious issue, particularly if it causes your dog to vomit or have difficulty passing stool. Also highly concerning but often less obvious is bowel obstruction, which can cause a variety of symptoms including lethargy and belly pain. Because this condition can be very serious, veterinarians recommend that owners seek medical attention for their pets as soon as they suspect that the dog has consumed an item of clothing.
All dogs behave in ways that confuse their owners, and clothing thievery is only one of them. Fortunately, unless your dog is eating or destroying the clothing that he steals, the behavior is likely not something for you to worry about. Chalk it up to instinct and remember, it is a dog-eat-clothes world out there!