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If you’re a dog owner you’ve probably encountered this embarrassing and problematic scenario:
You and your friends are gathered around the kitchen table, couch or sitting area, enjoying a lively discussion or perhaps enjoying a TV show or music together. Everyone is laughing and having an overall good time. Suddenly, Fido saunters into the room with his or her exciting new “toy” he just managed to find… in your laundry hamper. Much to your chagrin and the horror and amusement of your friends, your dirty underwear is dropped into the center of the floor for all to see.
While this is the humorous version of the scenario, eating underwear, socks and other laundry items can also pose major health risks for your pet. Clothing can become lodged in your dog’s stomach or intestines, creating a potentially life-threatening medical emergency. Training your dog to not eat underwear, therefore, is a critical task for any concerned dog owner.
Training your dog not to eat underwear doesn’t involve one specific method or command. Instead, you will need to start by teaching your dog several fundamental behaviors. This approach has many benefits. The tricks, commands, and behaviors you teach your dog in this one area will help make him a better learner and set him up with foundational knowledge for learning advanced tricks and commands in the future. As with any training, you’ll need to work slowly and at your dog’s pace. If either you or your pet becomes frustrated, take a break and do something enjoyable such as take a walk or play with a toy. This will keep training fun and productive for the both of you.
Training your dog not to eat underwear won’t take a great deal of preparation or special equipment. Since this is a real-world behavior, it’s best to teach your dog in the setting where the behavior would normally occur; your house, bedroom, bathroom or other living area. You’ll want to have plenty of treats, of differing levels of attractiveness, on hand. Dry cookies, cheese, hot dogs and steak pieces are good examples of varying levels of rewards. Varying reward levels are great for keeping your dog guessing, which can help for retention of the trick or behavior. Finally, you will want a selection of toys, bones and chewable objects, perfect for distracting or providing healthy alternatives for your dog.
The Alternatives Method
Pick a spot
Identify a central location where your dog can keep a cache of toys, chews and bones. It’s important for your dog to have a place to keep their hoard of items so that they know where to go when the need for a chew toy hits.
Stock the new toy chest with plenty of variety in toys. Different textures, materials, and scents will help keep your dog interested and entertained.
Bait the box
Introduce your dog to his new toy box by leading him to the location with treats. Placing a few dry dog cookies on top of or around the inside of the box with the toys will show him it's appropriate and fun to dig in.
Oldies but goodies
Be sure to also place a few of your dog's current toys in the box, in addition to the new items. The trick is to teach good habits and have your dog identify this space as an area where all of his favorite things can be accessed.
Observe and trade
If you see your dog rooting through the laundry hamper, or if he is carrying around a pair of your unmentionables, gently lead or lure him over to the toy box with a treat or cookie and exchange the underwear for an appropriate toy. Be sure to keep the experience pawsitive and upbeat.
The Aversion Method
Choose your deterrent
You will need to acquire several non-toxic substances that are distasteful to your pooch. There are commercially available sprays that contain lemon or spices, such as bitter apple sprays, that are specifically designed for this purpose. Tabasco sauce watered down at a ratio of 2-parts tobacco to 1-part water and placed in a spray bottle will also be acceptable and not harmful to your pet’s health.
Set the stage
Next you will need to set the scene for your dog to intentionally misbehave. You will need old underwear, or clothing that you will not intend to use again since the process may damage the material. Strategically place several pairs of underwear around the house that have been liberally sprayed with your chosen distasteful solution.
Keep a watchful eye on your dog and allow him to find the items on his own. It’s important that your dog not see you setting up the clothing or see you nearby as you want him to make an association with his own behavior and not by any action you may have taken.
Wait and watch
When your dog picks up or chews on one of the dosed items he should find it distasteful and spit it out. Do not interfere with this process so that your dog learns it is only his behavior of eating the underwear that is causing discomfort.
When you see your dog spit out the underwear, walk away from the underwear, or otherwise investigate and then leave it alone, you should praise your dog, give him a treat and redirect to an appropriate toy. Repetition of the above steps will help break your dog of the behavior quickly.
The Leave It Method
In order to teach your dog to leave or drop an object, such as underwear, you will need to start by getting your dog exited about a toy that can be tugged. A rope toy designed for dogs is perfect for this task. Spend a few minutes playing tug and make sure he wants to hang onto the toy.
Lure the 'drop'
Next, offer your dog a tasty treat in a second hand. You should start off with a very high value treat such as cheese or piece of steak. Only give them the treat once they have dropped the rope toy on their own. At this stage, the treat is a lure or bribe of sorts.
Repeat steps one and two until your dog is quickly and readily giving up the toy for a treat. Once this is happening reliably, start adding in your command, such as “leave it” or “drop it”, immediately before offering up the treat for a bribe. It’s important to continue using the command and food bribe and praise until your dog has developed a strong association with the word.
Lose the lure
Start giving the command on its own, without offering up the bribe first. Repeat this until your dog is reliably giving up the toy and continue to treat after he has dropped the item.
Repeat this process with multiple different types of toys and materials eventually using a pair of underwear in its place. Be sure to vary location and distance from which you are located to your dog. This will help build a strong foundation and reliable behavior, no matter situation.
Written by Kimberly Maciejewski
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 01/29/2018, edited: 01/08/2021