Raise your hand if your dog hasn’t once in its lifetime stolen some of your belongings from your laundry basket. As odd as this behavior may sound, this behavior is not that uncommon when Fido has access to such resources and is equipped with a sneaky mind. But why is he so interested in your dirty laundry? The reasons can be various.
Reasons Why Fido Likes to Raid the Laundry Basket
From a canine point of view, your belongings are always attractive simply because they carry your scent. And of course, dirty laundry has much more scent than clean laundry! It is comforting from a dog’s point of view to have something that smells like you especially when you are away.
If you ultimately think about it, when a puppy is taken first home, it is not unusual for the breeder to send him home with something that smells like his mom and litter mates. This will comfort the puppy and make him better overcome the anxiety of being away from his family so suddenly, at once.
Another reason may be simply that your dog is bored and is looking for stimulation. So your laundry basket may offer some interesting novelties to drag about and play with during the day. However, if your dog is stealing from the laundry basket in your presence, consider that the way to react may add an additional twist that will only reinforce this behavior.
Let’s say you are at home watching television and catch a glimpse of Rover dragging about your favorite bra. What is your first reaction? Getting up, possibly yelling ”you little Rascal, give me back me bra!” and there starts a chase all around the house until he is cornered and you can get it out of his mouth. Very likely, all the commotion and the chasing was a fun event for your dog and he will likely want to repeat it over and over. This applies especially to dogs who are bored or like the extra attention.
So now that you have a better idea as to why your dog is so attracted by your laundry, you can take some steps to reduce this annoying behavior and possibly extinguish it.
How to Stop Fido From Raiding the Laundry Basket
There are several ways to stop this unwanted behavior. It is helpful to determine the underlying cause and go from there. Following are some tips.
- Provide Mental Stimulation
Often behind unwanted behaviors such as chewing, barking, and playing with unwanted items is lack of mental stimulation. Dogs were bred with a job to do and many dogs are left most of the day at home with little to do. Just as kids, a bored mind may lead to trouble. Try your best to engage your dog in activities. A long walk, a game of Frisbee and then at home, some entertaining activities that will keep your dog engaged and out of trouble. Try to stuff several Kongs and leave them around the house to offer hours of entertainment, or invest in interactive games for dogs such as Buster Cubes.
- Engage in Management
Sometimes with severe cases of laundry stealing proper management is the best option. You prevent access to the laundry room and everybody is happy. Leaving the laundry basket around is just asking for trouble, most dogs will see this as an invitation to play, and opportunists as they are, most will certainly give in, especially when you are not around.
- Ignore the Stealing
If your dog steals for the pleasure of teasing you into a fun game or for its daily dose of attention, you can try to ignore the mishap if the item your dog got is something you do not care too much about. If instead, you really care about the item and want to get it out of your dog’s jaws without running after him in a futile game of chase, grab a high value treat and trade it for the item or get a toy your dog loves and toss it across the room. This should disengage the dog’s mouth from your precious laundry.
- Make it a Game
Another great solution comes from dog behaviorist Jean Donaldson author of the book ”The Culture Clash”. Instead of reprimanding the dog for stealing and chasing, put the stealing on cue. Putting the stealing on cue means you create a command for the stealing to take place. When you do this, you become in charge of the game. Therefore, leave plenty of toys around and tell your dog ”I’m gonna get you!” Your dog must pick up a toy and run with you chasing him. Then sit down, and likely your dog will try to solicit you to chase him again. Let him know you only continue playing when he brings the toy to you and drops it. Then you can start another session.
As he gets good at this you can leave the laundry basket around. If he grabs something ignore him totally. The game does not happen with any of your dirty clothes. When later during the day he gets a toy, ”Bingo!” the game starts. Your dog will learn to leave your dirty laundry by ”discrimination learning” he is basically actively thinking ”the game starts only when I pick certain items”.
As seen, laundry stealing does not have to be a problem behavior if you channel it correctly. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise and mental stimulation and the laundry basket may no longer be the appealing basket full of goodies as before.
The Culture Clash, Jean Donaldson, James and Kenneth Publishers, 1996