Whether it’s a quick snatching of a steak left to rest on the countertop, or a stealthy raid on the garbage bin, dogs can sometimes exhibit food-stealing behaviour that is not just troublesome but can also put their health at risk.
This issue isn’t about your dog’s ill intentions or bad manners but is rooted in their instincts. However, it is entirely possible to effectively stop your dog from stealing food.
Understanding The Problem
Before we delve into solutions, it’s crucial to understand why dogs steal food. The act of dogs stealing food can sometimes confound novice dog owners, especially when their dogs have access to perfectly good meals.
Sometimes dogs will even completely ignore their own food and choose to have a go at their owner’s food instead. To understand this, it’s important to delve deeper into some evolutionary, behavioural, and physiological aspects of dogs.
Dogs are descendants of wolves and other wild canines, who are natural scavengers. These animals had to find and eat food whenever it was available, as they never knew when their next meal would come.
This survival instinct has been passed down through generations, leading domestic dogs like Shiba Inu to seize any opportunity they get to eat, even when they’re not hungry or have their own food. Essentially, their brains are hardwired to think, “Better eat this now before it disappears.”
Dogs are opportunistic eaters. They live in the moment and will often take any chance they get to grab a tasty morsel, regardless of whether they have their own food or not. Human food, in particular, can be enticing to dogs due to its varied flavours and strong aromas compared to their regular dog food.
Dogs use their mouths to interact with the world in the same way that humans use their hands. They can steal food as a way of exploring their environment or out of curiosity, not necessarily because they’re hungry.
Sometimes, dogs steal food to get attention. If stealing food results in their owner chasing them around or giving them attention, they may learn to associate the act with these “rewards” and continue the behaviour.
Another factor could be the dog’s diet. If a dog’s regular food isn’t fulfilling its nutritional needs or if the dog simply doesn’t find it palatable, it may be more tempted to steal human food.
Establishing a Training Plan
The first step in dealing with food-stealing behaviour is to establish a positive reinforcement training plan. Rewarding your dog for good behaviour can be more effective than punishing them for bad behaviour. Begin by teaching your dog the “leave it” command. This command is a directive for your dog to ignore the item they’re focused on.
Start by holding a treat in a closed fist. When your dog stops trying to get the treat and pulls away, say “leave it,” and reward them with a different treat. Gradually increase the difficulty by placing the treat on the floor or somewhere accessible and using the “leave it” command.
Consistency is Key
Consistency is crucial in training. Ensure all members of the household understand and follow the same rules and commands. Mixed messages can confuse your dog and slow down the training process. The more regularly and consistently you train your dog, the faster they will learn.
One of the most effective ways to prevent your dog from stealing food is to remove the temptation. Keep your countertops clean and free of food when you’re not around. Secure your garbage cans with a lid, or even place them in a closed cabinet or dog-free room.
Feed Your Dog Regularly
Ensure your dog is getting enough food during their regular meals. If they’re well-fed, they’ll be less likely to seek out additional food. It’s also beneficial to establish a feeding schedule as dogs thrive on routine.
“Free-feeding,” an approach where you simply leave the dogs’ bowl full of food throughout the day, may be counterproductive. Start taking away their food bowl once mealtime is over so they learn that they need to eat according to the schedule.
There are safe deterrents available that can discourage your dog from jumping on countertops or going into the trash. Try for taste- or scent-based products that make these places unappealing for your dog.
If your dog’s food stealing behaviour persists despite consistent training and preventive measures, it might be time to consider professional help. A certified dog trainer or animal behaviourist can provide tailored strategies based on your dog’s specific needs and behaviours.
In some cases, food-stealing behaviour can be a sign of an underlying medical issue like increased appetite due to diabetes or hyperthyroidism. If you suspect this could be the case, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
The key to stopping your dog from stealing food lies in understanding the behaviour and putting in the work to teach your dog that they’ll be rewarded more for eating their own meals. Remember, patience and consistency are your best allies in this process.
Training takes time, and each dog learns at their own pace. Doing this properly will help ensure that your dog is happier, healthier, and less likely to steal human food.