Why Dogs Hoard Things

Maybe your dog thinks your dirty sock is a toy. Lorenzo Patoia/Shutterstock

Some dogs stash away their things. They tuck stuffed animals into the couch cushions or roll tennis balls under the bed. They might even hideaway pieces of their kibble in a laundry basket or bury them in the backyard.

But other dogs swipe stuff that doesn't belong to them. They might take off down the hallway with your sock, some mail, or your phone charger.

Dog owner @francesaemming recently had a moment of Twitter fame after she shared photos of her dachshund Flynn nabbing everything from remote control and a candle to a pillow and a cutting board.

It's instinct

Dogs squirrel things away thanks to centuries of hereditary behavior buried in their brains.

"Hoarding behavior in dogs is an instinctive behavior that originated during the time when their ancestors did not have regular meals appear magically, at least twice a day," according to the American Kennel Club. "They were lucky if they ate every few days, and if there was a jackpot of more food than could be eaten at once, these dog ancestors would sometimes take some food and bury it in a safe place for later. Wild animals do the same thing today."

Hiding food away for later was a matter of survival, explains holistic animal care specialist C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

"Fifteen thousand years later, the instinct to plan for a future need is still alive and well in the psyche of our well-fed buddies," she says.

When dogs take your things

dog stealing a dishcloth
Does the dog want to do the dishes or just play with the dish cloth?. paige bircham/Shutterstock

It's one thing when your dog has a pile of his own toys tucked in the corner, but what about when he hides things that belong to a human member of the family?

It could be those natural food instincts just manifesting themselves as a need to take just about anything, but there could be other motivations for the canine kleptomaniac.

He might think it's a toy and want to play with it. He might just grab it for attention, wanting you to chase him and play. He might just enjoy the way it looks or the texture when he grabs it.

"These dogs know what is important to you and they will grab the item just at the right time, so you see them do it. Their great hope is that you will follow in hot pursuit," behavior consultant Arden Moore writes in VetStreet.

Some dogs snatch things just because they didn't have things before. You might see this in dogs that were strays or rescues that didn't have toys before.

"Some dogs that did not have resources at a certain age could see it as a resource it wants and just take it," says certified dog behaviorist and trainer Susie Aga. "There is not a whole lot of thought behind it."

If it's a problem

dog with wagon of toys
Some dogs just hoard their own toys. alexei_tm/Shutterstock

It can be cute when squeaky toys are lined up in a pile on your bed or you find a tug toy in your gym clothes. But sometimes dogs can get protective of their stash and it can escalate to a behavior known as resource guarding. That's when a dog gets aggressive about keeping others (people or animals) away from its things.

If safety becomes an issue, the first step is to try to keep attractive items out of your dog's reach, suggests the AKC. If it's too much to keep the whole house free of tempting items, keep your dog confined to his crate with a yummy chew or in one tidy room.

If there's an occasional episode where the dog grabs the remote or your phone, offer a trade. Don't make a big deal about it, but have a high-value treat on hand and offer to swap. Praise your dog excitedly when he makes the trade.

(But if resource guarding gets to the point where there's growling, snapping or lunging, it would be a good idea to consult a dog behaviorist for advice.)

Other ideas

Sometimes dogs grab an item because they're bored, lonely, or have a whole lot of energy they don't know what to do with, says certified dog behaviorist and trainer Jolanta Benal.

In that case, make sure they get plenty of exercise, mental stimulation, and attention.

"Exercise is half the cure for boredom; mental stimulation is the other half," she says. "Attention is a need; dogs are social animals. Nobody enjoys a bored dog’s pestering, but it’s reasonable for our dogs to want some of our time, focus, and affection every day."

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. The better we understand our dogs, the better we can support and protect their wellbeing. We hope our readers will adopt rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores, and will also consider supporting local animal shelters.