Dogs and puppies get a lot of enjoyment out of getting into things
that they shouldn't. I was asked by a client recently -
“why does my dog always run away with my socks”. The socks themselves
provide only a little entertainment, to be chewed or thrown around,
but certainly no more than their favourite toy.
What does excite Fido however, is that it is not theirs'....
and because of this (and here is where the massive reward comes) the
attention a dog will get when he picks up a sock rather than their own
toy is considerably more. “What have you got Fido!” which is generally
followed by -
Shouting – all very exciting or a reason to hide.
A fun game of chase – what dog doesn't love chase!
Laughing - “my people have noticed me and are making a fun sound”
Handling – we rush over to grab our dog and you guessed it...handling is attention too.
Where this attention seeking game can go wrong for a dog is that the source of all this
entertainment is taken away by us. Of course, it is – after all, our dog should not be playing
with our socks! However, over time, in our dogs mind that simple, self-rewarding behaviour
turns into how do I stop the consequence – always having the sock taken away.
And, of course we don't just do this with things that dogs shouldn't be picking up. We expect
them to share all of their worldly goods with us without question – bones, toys, even their
meals if we so desire. How would you feel if you were asked to accept somebody taking your
prized mobile phone or your favourite chocolate bar from under your nose whenever they
pleased with no explanation?! I imagine you would not be very happy at all and would
certainly find some way of this not happening to you again. As our dogs cannot speak our
language and gain this explanation of sharing from us, they will go through a very similar
thought process. They process may go a little something like this:
Fido finds that running away and that fun game of chase always ends in him being caught
and the attention-grabbing sock gets taken away. So, he tries a new tactic. What if I play hide
and seek and squeeze myself into this little corner behind the furniture. Surely, they won't be
able to get to me and my special sock here! Or maybe if I stay really still and keep my eyes
on my crafty owners and then dart out of the way at the last minute socky will be saved.
But of course, these new games only work for a short time too as we seek Fido out from
his hiding spots and block him from returning there, or consistently outfox him in his games
of stealth and chase. The battle of the sock has now reached new levels of excitement and
importance in Fido's eyes. So, what next. This time he may try a little bark or a growl to warn
his parents how important the sock has become to him. It may surprise dad at first, but little
Fido is too cute and cuddly really and he still manages to take back his sock and then give
him a little telling off for the silly growl (over a sock no less!). Hmm...so now Fido thinks that
he best not do the barks and growls, maybe a snap of the air in mum or dads direction will
be the right answer. No, in fact that gets exactly the same reaction – after all, Fido isn't
scary, and dad knows he didn't mean anything by it as it was only a little snap.
So, what is left for Fido to show his parents that this lovely sock really is something he wants
to keep now.......unfortunately the only logical thing for our dogs to do is to increase the
aggression to something that can't be ignored – nipping or biting. After all, nothing else
worked to win the accolade of the attention grabbing, oh so desirable sock! And the more
that our dog learns that this behaviour works – the more it will be practised. Fido has learnt
the behaviour we call Resource Guarding. As I said earlier, this behaviour can be learnt with
anything we choose to take from them
without their cooperation and acceptance that they see as a resource: something that
provides fun and entertainment, nourishment or attention for our dog.
The key things to remember from this tale of one dog and his sock are:
If your dog gets hold of something that they shouldn't, don't give it special value with your
attention. Ignoring is boring! And if you can't (because your dog has hold of something
dangerous or expensive) then give all of your excitement and attention to something more
appropriate (one of their toys for example) and praise them for choosing that instead.
Teach your dog self-control and obedience commands, with the help of a fun training class,
so that they see the value in dropping items, leaving even the most tempting of things and
generally teaching them the good manners of sharing.
If you recognise any of Fido’s' behaviours in your own dog, seek advice from a qualified
trainer on how to put some simple techniques into your routine so that your dog can start to
see that sharing even the most exciting of “socks” can be the best sort of prize for all.
Kerry Walker - Behaviour Counsellor