Some dogs seem to develop an obsession with socks and/or shoes, and if your dog is one of them you have probably got into the habit of storing your shoes out of reach, and never being able to find a pair of socks! This behaviour is not the same as that displayed by dogs that are apt to chew on shoes and socks or that generally pick up anything that is not nailed down, which makes it rather less of a problem if you know that you may take a while to find your things, but that they will not be damaged when you do.
However, there are a lot of different reasons for why a dog might be determined to find, pick up and disappear with your socks or shoes, and learning about some of the most common of them can help you to identify the roots of such behaviour, and develop a better understanding of your dog.
In this article, we will examine what might be going on in your dog’s head when they take your socks or shoes, and provide some potential explanations for such behaviour. Read on to learn more.
Dogs that have a working history as retrieving dogs, like many spaniels as well as retrievers such as the flat coated retriever have what is known as a “soft mouth,” which means that such dogs have highly attuned bite inhibition, allowing them to grasp and hold even fragile things without damaging them-an essential skill for retrieving downed game birds.
Many retrieving dog breeds are only happy if they have something in their mouth, and this might be a ball, other toy, or something like your socks and shoes. Perhaps you don’t allow your dog to play with a ball in the house because they associate it with walks and so, get too rowdy in the house-in this case, your shoes and socks may be a convenient substitute that is within reach, and the right sort of size and weight.
Many dogs have a tendency to hoard things like toys and other items that they like, so if you can reliably find that missing shoe or sock in your dog’s bed or another area where they tend to stockpile the things they take, your dog may be manifesting the natural behaviour of gathering resources-things that they like or need-and keeping them safe.
All dogs need a range of different toys and diversions to give them something to play with and entertain themselves with, as well as to provide comfort and familiarity as well as something to do when they are on their own. If your dog doesn’t have enough toys of different types or cannot access their toys, they may seek substitutes with things of the right size that are interesting and easily available to them.
Socks and shoes are of course something that we wear regularly and so, that soon become imbued with our own unique scents, even if you do not have smelly feet and are vigilant about keeping your shoes and socks clean!
Dogs have a much more sensitive sense of smell than humans do, and because we have a lot of sweat glands in our feet and the insides of our shoes and socks absorb this, your dog may find the smell of your socks and shoes appealing, interesting or familiar. Additionally, the specific texture and mouth feel of your socks and shoes can be appealing to some dogs too.
Because your socks and shoes will smell strongly to your dog and be a very familiar scent, some dogs use such things as a type of security blanket that smells like their favourite people and that helps to provide reassurance and comfort if they are on their own or cannot get your attention.
Most dogs have a certain toy or blanket that provides this type of comfort for them, but for some dogs, it will be something else-like your shoes!
If your dog persistently seeks out balls of socks, odd socks or shoes that are within reach, regardless of the origins of the behaviour, it will soon become a habit, much like carrying anything around in the mouth obsessively can be.
If you then start keeping your socks and shoes well out of reach, your dog will likely start looking for alternatives, so make sure you provide something that they can use instead!
Finally, if your dog’s shoe and sock stealing is a habit or regular occurrence, you have probably unwittingly gotten into the routine of looking for your dog to retrieve your things, or calling them to you to surrender what they took!
Additionally, if your dog wants your attention and learns that parading your things past you will garner a response, they will soon learn that picking up your socks and shoes will elicit a reaction out of you, which will reinforce the behaviour and provide its own form of reward to your dog.