Dog on the Couch

2016-01-21 06:00

Dear Susan, please can you help? My dog, Moppet, has always been a bit of a thief which we have usually tried to tolerate, but Christmas day was the final straw. While the family were occupied opening presents he managed to get up onto the table and ran off with the turkey. When we eventually caught him he wouldn’t release it, which resulted in our main course being gobbled and ripped to pieces in a game of tug-and-war. I was never more embarrassed and horrified.


Dogs are by nature opportunistic feeders. In fact the success of canines is due to their omnivorous feeding habits and their readiness to eat anything they may find, whether cat poo or an unguarded gourmet dinner. They have no notion of the immorality of stealing - they are simply eating what they find available.

Because of the dog’s superior agility skills, if we respond to food theft by shouting and running after the miscreant, his reward is even greater. Not only has got the booty, but a game of catch-me-if-you-can has been thrown in.

It is due to their very nature that dogs steal. They are programmed not to waste anything edible. As opportunistic scavengers they will take advantage of any accessible food. Dogs may also steel out of boredom. Because we supply regular meals, the dog loses the rewarding cycle of engaging the searching system in the brain which is programmed to produce feel-good chemicals.

Many humans derive the same feel-good boost when shopping, whether for food, clothes, cars or whatever takes their fancy. In this respect we are not very different.

By hiding the dog’s food in empty plastic cool-drink bottles with the lid removed, the dog will need to work for his meal, which will relieve boredom and awaken the searching system. Obedience training exercises with impulse control, and teaching “leave it” and “drop it” commands will be helpful. But you do need to persevere and be consistent in this training. Relieving the dog’s boredom should also be of some help.

Some people advise smearing mustard or a similar substance unattractive to the dog on food left as bate appropriate to the dog’s habit, but possibly the dog will smell the deterrent, leave the bate and simply bide his time until untainted food is on the table.

My advice is to properly and consistently train the “leave it” command and, importantly, to relieve boredom if this is a factor in your dog’s life. Please convey to Moppet that while I am pleased he enjoyed his Christmas feast, his behaviour, while understandable, is unacceptable.

Susan Henderson© (accredited animal behaviourist).

info@dogbox training

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