Your dog might occasionally engage in behavior that you consider strange and even a bit nasty. Somewhere near the top of this list is your dog’s fascination with your dirty laundry, specifically, with your dirty underwear. If you have ever left dirty underwear out, only to later discover a mess of chewed up rags, you are not alone. Dirty underwear is one of the most popular non-food items that a dog will try to eat in its lifetime. If you feel embarrassed, or feel like your dog is an oddball, rest assured that this is a nearly universal dog issue. No matter how embarrassing your personal experience, your friends probably have stories of their own. Here are some reasons why it is so common for dogs to chew up their owners' undies.
The Root of the Behavior
A dog’s sense of smell is estimated to be between 1,000 and 100,000 times better than a human’s sense of smell. While we might imagine that a dog sees the world with its eyes like we do, it is actually more accurate to say that it sees the world with its nose. Dogs learn to associate scents with everything that they smell, and in a dog’s world, the more scent there is to work with, the better. This behavior can be seen clearly in the way that dogs approach one another. Two dogs meeting for the first time may investigate one another by taking turns sniffing underneath the other’s tail. There are glands at the base of the tail that give off a scent unique to each dog, and to a dog, knowing that scent is like seeing a familiar face. Your dirty underwear, as uncomfortable as it might be, contains a concentrated scent that is unique to you, and your dog is capable of dissecting this scent and associating it with you whether you are wearing your clothes or not. This, combined with the fact that humans keep their underwear very much to themselves, makes the object an item of interest and value to our loyal friends. This concept is not limited to underwear. If you have ever caught your dog napping in the jacket that you left on the couch, or wrapped up in your favorite blanket, then you know that your dog simply likes you. When you are not there, being close to your scent is the next best thing. It is the concentration of smells in your dirty underwear that dogs are especially drawn too, and this can sometimes be paired with another dog habit: chewing. All dogs love to chew things, and the fact that humans discard or leave such a valuable, smelly item lying around on the ground might signal to your dog that it is fair game. There could be a number of other factors going on in your dog’s mind when it comes across your discarded underwear, but the most likely explanation for why you will seldom retrieve your underwear fully intact is that your dog does not think that the item should be discarded, and so it will chew on it and try to eat it.
Encouraging the Behavior
The simplest and most convenient way to teach your dog not to chew on your dirty underwear is to simply stop leaving it around for dogs to have access to. A dirty-clothes hamper and enclosed spaces like the inside of a closet are perfect roadblocks for dogs that are just doing a little investigating. Additionally, if your dog is particularly interested in chewing up your underwear, you might find it useful to invest in some chew toys for your dog to play with instead. This will encourage dogs to get out their energy in a healthy way, and to not look for something inappropriate to chew on. When training a dog not to eat dirty underwear, always remember that a dog’s memory-span is short. If you drag them over to a pile of rags that they chewed up even thirty minutes prior, they will not associate your lecture with the act of chewing on dirty underwear. You must catch them in the moment and stop them in the act in order for the message to go through. If your dog is guilty of multiple offenses, and you have already tried making your dirty laundry inaccessible, consider behavioral training to teach the dog not to chew on things that it shouldn’t be.
Other Solutions and Considerations
In some cases, dogs that chew on your dirty underwear are at risk of blockage along their digestive tract. The fabrics and elastic components of many types of underwear can get stuck in a dog’s intestines, especially if the dog is a smaller dog. If you discover or suspect that your dog has eaten a pair of your dirty underwear, monitor them closely until they are able to successfully pass the fabric. This is true for any article of clothing or foreign object that your dog consumes. If you are fearful for your dog’s health, or if you notice that they have stopped being able to pass stool, you should take them into the veterinarian so that the vet can check for blockage.
At the end of the day, dogs getting into your dirty underwear is simply not a comfortable experience. It shouldn’t take more than one or two offenses before you take preventative action, and in most cases, you can stop a dog simply by making your underwear inaccessible. Make sure that underwear doesn’t become your dog’s favorite chew toy and know that your dog will find plenty of other scents to investigate in its lifetime.