unsupervised dog sneaks and steals food from the kitchen counter

Why is My Dog Taking My Stuff?

Dear Cesar,

My bright, affectionate six-month-old Golden Retriever named Kipper was crate-trained very early and still spends lots of time in his crate. Kipper is gentle with his mouth and wonderful with my young grandchildren. The only problem is, he’s a sneak and obsessive dog. Although he has plenty of toys, what he enjoys most is taking anything that isn’t his—dish towels, shoes, hats, newspapers, you name it—and dragging it back to his crate. Aside from the papers, he doesn’t destroy things—he just hoards them, and he knows he isn’t supposed to. He grabs out-of-reach items off counter tops, anything from cakes to medicine vials, and only when no one is looking. Although I’d prefer to give him the run of the house, I have to keep him in his crate whenever he’s unsupervised. I call him my stealth thief. Why is he behaving like this, and how can I stop him?

Cesar Millan’s answer

Hi Jon,

Without my knowing what your dog’s daily life is like—things like how much dog exercise he’s getting—I can tell you that Golden Retrievers have an innate desire to help, and that one of the ways they do that is by bringing things. As long as a dog is awake, when he’s around you he’s observing you. He’s noticing what you touch; if you’re going to the cabinet or the counter top, he’s noticing you there. He’s in touch with what you’re in touch with, and he’s retrieving the things that remind him of you. As far as where to keep them, his crate is his only option.

With respect, I also need to tell you that your dog doesn’t know that what he’s doing is wrong. What he knows is that when he takes things, he gets a response. It seems to me that Kipper may be a little bored, and that what he’s telling you is, “I’m maturing; I need to do more.” With certain dogs, being a partner isn’t enough; it’s a pleasure, but it’s not a job—and the fact that Kipper is part Retriever says to me that he needs that job. Think of what you can do to redirect his energy and his desire to help. Look into agility or search-and-rescue training. You might even want to train Kipper to become a therapy dog. I never believe that dogs are actively trying to add stress to our lives. What I believe is that they’re trying to teach us basic life lessons.

Stay calm and assertive!

Cesar Millan

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