Dogs are one of the most adaptable and evolutionarily successful creatures on earth. One of the reasons for this is that they are expert scavengers. Any food, unless it is actually in the mouth of another pack member, is up for grabsâ€” if it’s available, it’s worth having!
On the whole, domestic dogs have not lost this drive to scavenge. If they find food or something that they regard as edible, and they get the chance, they are likely to eat it. This is not naughty behavior or stealing from the dog’s point of viewâ€”but a sensible use of resources. Unfortunately, humans have different values and we are not sympathetic if we discover that the dog has jumped up on the kitchen counter and eaten the Sunday roast, or put its head in the garbage can and licked it clean.
The desire to scavenge is usually governed to some extent by breed characteristics. Gundogs are notorious “stomachs-on-legs” and will usually eat anything and everything if given the chance. Scavenging also depends on the diet that the dog is currently eating, and the allure of the food it finds. Nearly all dogs find the dung of other animals almost impossible to resist.
Cat feces, horse manure, cattle dung, rabbit and fox droppings are all considered to be doggie delicacies, even if we don’t agree! Although repulsive to us, such morsels are unlikely to do your any harm as long as you regularly have your dog wormed.
By ignoring “begging” an owner can easily teach their dog that human food is not for sharing dog.
Prevention is always better than cure if you have a dog that would like to spend ten hours a day eating. Keeping the dog out of the kitchen while cooking, teaching it to lie in a bed or basket with a chew or toy during family mealtimes, and putting food out of reach are all sensible strategies. If the dog manages to obtain food only occasionally, the lure of trying to get it is even stronger.This makes a “no feeding from the table” rule even more important.
In most domestic households, dogs have access to many different kinds of objects, some of which they are allowed to touch and others they are forbidden to pick up. Childrens’ toys, remote control units, eyeglasses, hair bands, socks, even Christmas decorations are all removed from dogs’ stomachs by veterinarians every year, and many dogs are killed after ingesting poisons, such as human medication and household chemicals.
It is perfectly normal for a puppy to want to pick up objects and put them in its mouth. Much like human toddlers, puppies explore the world around them through taste and smell, as well as testing to see what the reaction from those around them will be. This is usually the prime reason dogs “steal” items from around the house.
Imagine the scenario: your dog is lying quietly on the floor, chewing on a dog toy that you have given it. What do you do or say? Very little! Now imagine the same dog lying on the floor quietly chewing your wallet. The reaction would be somewhat different. Dogs, like children, will work hard to get attention, even negative attention, such as being scolded. Most young or adolescent dogs love nothing better than watching their owners getting hot under the collar, and if they can turn possession of a forbidden item into a chase game around the house and into the yardâ€”even better! In this way, dogs soon learn that chewing their own toy gets no rewards, attention, or excitement at all, while picking up and chewing a valuable object results in the equivalent of winning the lottery.
The best solution for this kind of behavior is to reverse the reaction you give to the dog. If it picks up one of its own toys, show excitement, play, and praise. On the other hand, if it picks up an object you don’t want it to have, but can sacrifice, such as a tissue or a newspaper, walk straight out of the room without a word. If the object is one that you really can’t ignore, creating a distraction, such as ringing the front doorbell, gives you a window of opportunity to retrieve it, without inadvertently giving the dog attention for unwanted behavior. Any aggression over possession of stolen articles should be dealt with in conjunction with a behavior specialist.