Ask the Trainer: Correcting Hoarding Behaviors

My dog is hoarding our shoes and destroying them- what can we do to stop her?

Teaching a dog what she can enjoy (fuzzy chew toy? Yes. Fuzzy slipper? No.) is the human’s responsibility. The dog does not automatically know the difference between two objects, but the beautiful thing is that she is absolutely able to learn. Dogs are incredible at discrimination—so much so that my dog has an old shoe she is allowed to mangle, but she has never chewed any other shoe in the house. My dog isn’t special, she has just been reinforced for the proper behavior.

It starts with management. If your dog is going after all the shoes, you need to make sure they are completely unavailable to the dog.  Be strict with the household that all shoes are stowed away in a closet while the dog is learning what she can and cannot play with. I always say it’s harder to train the humans than the dog, and in this case it is definitely true!

Make sure your dog has plenty of novel toys and knows what she is allowed to have around the house.

Once the house has been “chew proofed”, it’s time to make the things your dog is allowed to have extra enticing. Keep her toys and chews stashed away so that when you bring them out it’s like they are brand new. Toss them around, act like you are chasing them, pretend that rope toy is the most exciting thing you have seen all day. Present the new squeaky ball along with one of your dog’s favorite treats, or next to her bowl at feeding time. Pair the dog’s toys with stuff she loves, like food and attention from you.

About this hoarding issue: is the dog guarding the shoes she steals? Does she stiffen, growl or snap if you try to take them away? Resource guarding is a more serious issue that may require help from a trainer who can come to your home. However, if she isn’t showing aggressive signals and this is just a fun game for her, try object exchange. It is a simple process of asking the dog to “Give” and exchanging what the dog has in her mouth for a treat. Then you give the object back to the dog. You want to do this at first with things that are ok for the dog to chew, because you are going to repeat the process a bunch of times until your dog is probably drooling and dropping the object as soon as she hears “Give.”  Give means treat, something really scrumptious, so make sure it’s a special food reward.

When you have gone through this procedure with lots of different dog toys, and she is giving them to you reliably, you can try this with a “forbidden” object.  I wouldn’t recommend starting with an expensive throw pillow or a Louboutin pump, but if you practice this enough, your valuables will be safe and your dog will possibly ignore them completely, preferring her own belongings.