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Why Do Dogs Steal Socks, Shoes, and Other Clothes?

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Dog Behavior By Kelsey Snyder 8 min read May 24, 2021

reasons dogs steak socks

Sometimes, dogs get a case of sticky fingers — er, paws — and swipe things around the house.

Seemingly nothing is safe from this canine kleptomania: shoes, socks, and yes, even underwear. But why do our dogs steal? Don’t we spoil them enough? 

No one can really tell you why your dog may be a barking bandit since some sniffers snatch items no matter what, but we’ll share some of the leading explanations and tell you how to solve the problem below.

Common Reasons Dogs May Steal Shoes and Clothes

lots of dogs like stealing clothes

First and foremost, it’s important to note that your dog isn’t being malicious when he grabs your favorite luxury tie instead of your bargain bin one. 

He has no concept of worth outside of a food’s value in his belly. So rest assured, he isn’t hoarding your stuff to sell for snacks. Nor is he, as is commonly but mistakenly assumed, being spiteful. 

Your dog is likely stealing for one of a few surprisingly basic reasons.

Attention

We know this is shocking news, but the more attention a dog gets, the happier he is, in most cases. And there’s a good chance your pickpocket pupper is no different. 

Just look at all the awesome attention he gets every time he steals something!

In addition to getting up and likely checking your dog’s bed or crate for the item, you’re also giving your pooch more attention by chasing him if he decides to play keep-away with the stolen object. So, if you’ve been working longer hours or giving your doggo less one-on-one time, this might explain the sudden canine crime spree. 

Desire to Chew

Chewing is a natural behavior in dogs, and your four-footer needs a safe outlet for this desire. Fail to give him something and he’ll most likely start sniffing around for something fun to chew on his own, and I promise you won’t like what he comes up with! 

Shoes, socks, and dish towels are especially fun to chew and shred, so they’re often the first items to grow legs when a toothy hound is around. Not only is this behavior an expensive nuisance, but it can also be dangerous if your dog ingests the chewed item or hurts his mouth munching on something he shouldn’t. 

Boredom

A mischievous mutt may also steal stuff because he’s just plain old bored. 

Dogs need mental exercise as much as they need the physical variety, especially if your pooch is a working breed, like a husky, shepherd, or cattle dog. 

And keep in mind that a bored dog can get himself into all sorts of trouble beyond stealing, like shredding pillows, chasing the cat, or redesigning your couch with his chompers. So, for the sake of your dog’s safety (and your sanity), make sure you give your pupper plenty of things to do (we’ll talk more about ideas for occupying your dog below).

Scent

dogs like the way our clothes smell

This is a gross one, but certain items around the house are tempting targets because they smell like you. Yes, this includes your underwear and the seams of your pants. At least they want to be near you, right?  

Smelling your scent provides comfort when you’re not around, which is why a lot of clothes-stealing goes on when you’re out and about. Your dog may take other items to cuddle, such as stuffed animals or pillows (again, especially if they smell like you), in your absence.

Anxiety

Stealing is sometimes a compulsive behavior, like excessive grooming, pacing, or wall-staring. And these kinds of behaviors often manifest in response to anxiety

Surrounding himself in bathroom towels or carrying around your slipper when a visitor is over might be your dog’s way of alleviating his anxiety and self-soothing. Just understand that canine anxiety is no fun for our pets, so be sure to discuss the issue with your vet and a canine behaviorist if you suspect your dog is a worrywart.  

How Can You Stop Clothes Stealing Behavior in Dogs?

how can you stop your dog from stealing

The good news is that most cases of canine theft have quick fixes, unlike other, more complicated behavioral issues. By tweaking a few things around the house, employing some solid management strategies, and shifting your routine, you’ll have a happier, less pilfering pupper in no time. 

Combat pooch pirates by: 

  • Providing toys: The more interactive the toy, the better. You want toys that keep him engaged and provide a higher value during play than some boring old sock. Consider opting for toys that react as your dog plays, like squeaky toys, crinkle balls, or treat-dispensing puzzle toys
  • Increasing enrichment: Canine enrichment activities allow your doggo to express his canine instincts in safe, appropriate ways. This might mean giving your digging dachshund a sandbox for burrowing or installing a spring pole for your pibble to grab and shake. Enrichment doesn’t always require complicated setups, either. You can also take your dog to sniff around a new park or teach him a new trick or command.  
  • Offering chews: As we discussed, chewing is a natural behavior in dogs, and your dog needs a safe way to chomp away. The best way is by buying him a dog chew that works best for his chew style.
  • Providing cuddle toys: Some dogs enjoy having something to curl up with, like a stuffed animal. Offer your pooch one of his own, so he’ll stop swiping yours. You can also get him a cuddler bed or blanket to nest in for extra security and comfort.
  • Removing temptation: For those ultra-fun items to snatch, like undies and shoes, simply keep them out of your pup’s reach. You may want to buy a hidden shoe rack for your closet or opt for a laundry basket with a latching lid.
  • Increasing exercise: If you don’t already, take your dog on a daily walk and let him sniff around. The secret is to wear out his body and mind, so don’t be afraid to try a new game or practice his tricks along the way. For more active breeds, pick up a new sport or increase his exercise game to include jogging, hiking, or running alongside you as you bike. You can also opt for a midday stroll with a professional dog walker if your four-footer spends the day at home alone.
  • Giving more attention: Incorporate more touch in your routine. Belly rubs, pats, and scritches go a long way in easing stress (for you and your pooch). Talk to him, too, whether you’re unloading about your day or chatting about what a great boy he is. Sure, he can’t answer you (well, he might try to), but it’s extra attention that he’ll love.
  • Maintaining a schedule: Dogs are creatures of habit, and while we have fifty-thousand things competing for our attention, our dogs only have us. Period. Running behind is annoying to us, but that extra hour can be anxiety-inducing for our pets. So, do everything you possibly can to keep your schedule consistent (but always feel free to add in periodic “bonus” fun for your pet when your schedule allows). 

No matter the reason for your dog’s thievery, never harshly correct him if he steals an item. There’s no need to do so, and it may exacerbate the underlying cause of his stealing habit. 

A simple “no” in a firm tone will do, followed by redirecting him to an acceptable chew or toy. Being overly harsh in your corrections can make the naughty behavior worse.

Which Dogs Are the Most Likely Thieves?

which dogs steal the most often

While any pup can exhibit the behavior, some types of dogs steal items more than others.

If you have any of these canine companions, you’re more likely to have episodes of canine kleptomania: 

  • Golden retrievers: Goldens and other retrievers are more likely to pick up items in their mouths and show them off, whether it’s to you, the pup parent, or visitors at the door. 
  • Terriers: These dig-happy doggos are known to snatch objects and “bury” them in their beds. This is just their way of exercising their natural instincts. 
  • Bored dogs: As we discussed above, dogs who lack mental stimulation are more likely to start swiping objects. This could include breeds with strong working drives that aren’t being met, such as malinois, shepherds, and collies.
  • Power-chewers: Doggos that love to chew, like bully breeds and puppies, will snatch tooth-tempting items if not given proper chew outlets, such as bully sticks.
  • Dogs suffering from separation anxiety: Make no mistake — your dog misses you when you’re gone. So, a stressed-out canine will resort to any means to self-soothe, including eating your favorite dress shoes or swiping your gym clothes from the laundry.

Do You NEED to Stop Canine Theft?

In many cases, yes. If your dog is destroying the objects he steals, you should nip the behavior in the bud. 

This will not only save you time, money, and aggravation, but it could also save your pup’s life. Ingesting foreign materials could lead to a painful, expensive, and possibly deadly bowel obstruction. Your dog could also cut his mouth or damage his teeth while chewing an off-limits object. 

But for dogs that merely swipe an item to cuddle with, the behavior is pretty harmless, so it’s up to you whether you’d like to redirect it to more pooch-friendly items like plush toys or blankets. You could also offer an old t-shirt of yours in hope he stops raiding your laundry basket. That might save you some embarrassment down the line.

***

Do you have a canine klepto in your house? What’s his favorite thing to snatch? Have you found a solution? Let us know in the comments.

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Written by

Kelsey Snyder

Kelsey is a K9 of Mine contributor who has worked with dogs as a shift runner and office manager of a boarding kennel. When she’s not writing, she can be found throwing a ball or losing at tug of war. An animal lover to the max, she lives in South Jersey with her husband, her five dogs Boomer, Taj, Batman, Maya, and Moxie, some kitties, and two grumpy turtles.

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