All dogs do it at some stage – whether it’s ‘counter surfing’ in the kitchen, rummaging through garbage, thieving items from around the house or even snatching things from our hands. What can we do?
The first step to rehabilitating your furry thief is to determine the reason for its ‘counter surfing’ habits. When your dog steals, the consequence is something pleasurable as it gets to eat a snack, or receives attention from you. Each time, the thieving behaviour will be ‘rewarded’ and reinforced, thus it is likely to continue and even worsen with time.
Some dogs steal simply because they have never been properly taught that it is inappropriate behaviour. Your dog may use thieving as a tactic to receive attention from you; by learning that picking up a shoe or cushion will get you to chase after it, this action then becomes a fun game!
A bored dog with lots of unexpended energy will simply look for alternative sources of entertainment, or will steal belongings such as socks or shoes that are coated with the scent of the owner they miss. It may also not respect you or see itself as higher-ranked in the family pack hierarchy, thus it may feel entitled to help itself to anything it wants.
Mission – Possible
After identifying the possible causes of your dog’s kleptomaniac behaviour, come up with an action plan to curb the thieving habit. Here are some general tips:
- 1. Keep food and other items out of reach. Prevention is always the best option in dog training. Remove the trigger that is motivating and reinforcing the habit.
- 2. When you are present, provide your dog with instant feedback – both positive and negative.
- 3. Feed wisely – only ever feed your dog from its bowl, or as a reward during obedience training sessions, and never from the dinner table.
- 4. Provide physical and mental stimulation: nice long walks, chew toys, fun games and some obedience training daily will keep your dog too busy to get up to mischief.
When all else fails, you can also try ‘booby-trapping’ to associate stealing with an unpleasant (but not cruel or painful) consequence. Place some tasty meat on the dining table or kitchen counter, and tie a string to it while attaching empty tin cans with coins in them to give your dog a rude shock when the tin cans come crashing down.
At the end of the day, obedience training is key to addressing most behavioural problems, including ‘counter surfing’ and other thieving habits. A command to try is, “Leave it!” Be patient and consistent, and you should see results. Good luck!