Ever wondered why your Labrador seems irresistibly drawn to your shoes? Curious about what’s behind this quirky canine behavior and how to curb it?
You’ve come to the right place!
Here’s Briefly Why Labradors Like Shoes:
In this comprehensive article, we’ve got an 8-point exploration into the whys of their shoe obsession to satisfy your curiosity.
But understanding is just the start — we’ll guide you through a tailored 10-step training plan to help your Lab drop the shoe habit.
And to ensure lasting results? We’ve rounded up 8 preventive strategies to keep those paw-friendly shoes off-limits.
Note: Our articles are comprehensive and in-depth. Feel free to expand the table of contents below and skip ahead to sections that interest you.
8 Reasons Why Labs Like Shoes
1) Natural Retrievers
The Labrador Retriever as its name suggests, belongs to the retriever breed category. Historically, they were bred and trained to retrieve game for hunters.
Their job was to gently fetch the game without damaging it and bring it back to the hunter. This retrieval instinct is deeply embedded in their genetics.
So, when they see a shoe, their inherent instinct to fetch and carry objects kicks in.
Shoes with their distinct shape, texture and often the residual scent of their owner make a particularly appealing item for a Lab to retrieve.
To a Labrador, this is an olfactory journey. This is because labs have a keen sense of smell and shoes become a veritable treasure trove of information.
It’s not merely about the action of retrieving; it’s also about the exploration of your day, your trails and your experiences.
Furthermore, the design and material of shoes mirror that of game animals. The soft leather or fabric can feel similar to the fur or feathers of a game bird and the flexibility can resemble that of a fowl’s body.
When a Lab picks up a shoe, it’s replicating to some degree the act of fetching game, even if it’s doing so subconsciously.
2) Strong Oral Fixation
Oral fixation in the context of dogs, refers to their tendency to explore, understand and interact with the world primarily through their mouths.
This behavior is especially pronounced in breeds like the Labrador.
From their early days as puppies, Labs show a pronounced desire to chew, nip and carry objects in their mouths. This isn’t mere mischief or playfulness; it’s an intrinsic drive.
Shoes become a prime target for this oral fixation due to a combination of factors. Firstly, the texture of shoes, whether it be the soft inner lining or the tougher exterior provides a satisfying tactile experience for a Lab’s mouth.
It’s akin to how humans might find comfort in kneading a stress ball; Labs find solace in the act of chewing or mouthing an object that offers resistance.
When they hold a shoe in their mouth, they aren’t merely biting into a material; they’re immersing themselves in an olfactory narrative that is deeply personal and intriguing.
Beyond the sensory appeal, this oral fixation also stems from a biological perspective. Chewing aids in strengthening a dog’s jaws and keeping their teeth clean.
Over time, evolution favored dogs who had strong oral tendencies as these dogs maintained better dental health and were more adept at various survival tasks.
A Labrador’s predisposition to chew, therefore, isn’t just a whimsical trait; it’s a vestige of survival.
3) Sensory Exploration
For Labradors — a breed known for its acute sensory capabilities, this exploration is primarily driven by their sense of smell and taste.
Each object they encounter, particularly shoes, offers a plethora of sensory data just waiting to be deciphered.
When they gnaw, mouth or even just touch a shoe with their paws, they’re immersing themselves in a rich tactile experience. This is not mere mischief or random play.They are attempting to discern the nature of the material to understand its flexibility, hardness or softness. It’s a tactile investigation, if you will.
Moreover, the auditory allure of shoes adds an extra layer of intrigue for Labradors.
Consider the subtle sounds that shoes can produce. The soft rustle of a shoe’s fabric, the tiny squeak that might emerge when they press on a shoe’s cushioning or even the muted thud it creates when dropped—all these are auditory stimuli that a Lab finds appealing.
For a dog that’s always alert and curious, such noises can be both entertaining and informative that gives them clues about the shoe’s composition and structure.
Beyond the tactile and auditory aspects, the very taste and texture of shoes present a unique exploration ground for Labradors. While humans might find it hard to fathom, for a Labrador, the taste experience isn’t solely about food.
The varied materials used in shoe construction from leather to synthetics provide a spectrum of tastes and textures.
Each material has a distinct flavor profile and when coupled with the dirt, sweat and other minute environmental elements a shoe collects, it turns into a real buffet of flavors for a Lab to enjoy.
Leather, for instance, has organic origins. Its natural taste can be reminiscent of the animal it came from which makes it alluring for Labradors.
On the other hand, synthetic materials can offer an entirely different experience, not necessarily because they taste “good” in a human sense but because they’re novel and different.
Shoes with their multifaceted sensory offerings present a captivating object of interest. It’s less about the shoe itself and more about the comprehensive sensory journey it offers.
4) Energetic Nature
To begin with, a Labrador’s innate enthusiasm isn’t merely physical; it’s a mental characteristic too.
Imagine possessing a level of zest akin to a toddler’s curiosity – it’s relentless and constantly seeking avenues for expression. For a Labrador, shoes aren’t just footwear; they’re playthings that promise endless entertainment.
Every lace to tug, every sole to chew, every surface to paw at becomes a small chapter in their daily saga of exploration.
The design and structure of shoes play into this narrative. Shoes with their varied components – laces, flaps, soles, and more – are like intricate puzzles waiting to be solved — ideal for a breed bubbling with energy.
It’s not unlike a child being handed a toy with multiple moving parts; the child is captivated and so is the Labrador with the shoe. The allure? The challenge and the myriad ways one can engage with it.
Furthermore, consider the placement and accessibility of shoes. Typically left at ground level, they’re effortlessly within a Labrador’s reach, making them an easy target for a quick energy release.
When a Lab feels a surge of excitement or perhaps even anxiety, what’s easier than grabbing a shoe lying around and engaging in a spontaneous game of tug-of-war or fetch?
For them, the shoe becomes both an object of curiosity and an outlet for their overflowing vitality.
Moreover, the energy of Labradors isn’t just spontaneous; it’s also consistent.A short burst of play might suffice for other dog breeds, but Labs have a stamina that craves prolonged engagement. Shoes, being robust and durable can withstand the persistent attention Labradors are known to give.
5) Teething Phase
Teething in Labradors, much like in humans is a period marked by discomfort and a persistent urge to gnaw.
As their primary teeth give way to their permanent set, the pressure exerted by the emerging teeth can cause soreness in their gums.
Now, let’s juxtapose this with the texture and build of shoes. Shoes, especially the softer inner parts, offer the perfect resistance to a teething puppy’s bite.
They’re neither too hard to cause pain nor too soft to offer no relief. Chewing on shoes helps alleviate the discomfort by giving those sore gums a therapeutic massage of sorts.
Then there’s the issue of accessibility. Shoes, often discarded casually after a day’s wear, sit conveniently at a pup’s level. For a teething Labrador, they are the low-hanging fruit – effortlessly reachable, emitting familiar scents and oh-so-tempting to gnaw on.
Also, shoes are a repository of smells, a fact we’ve touched upon previously. To a teething Labrador, these smells provide a comforting familiarity, especially if they’re the owner’s.Combine this with the relief the shoe offers their aching gums and it’s no wonder shoes become their go-to during this phase.
Let’s not overlook the experimental nature of puppies. This phase is not just about physical growth but also about understanding and navigating the world around them.
6) Comfort Seeking
When it comes to the curious relationship between Labradors and shoes, a substantial part of the allure can be traced back to their intrinsic desire for comfort.
Firstly, shoes often retain the warmth of our feet. After wearing them for extended periods, the shoes become a warm enclave which for a Labrador is synonymous with snugness.
Think of it as their version of a heated blanket. Nestling their snout into a recently worn shoe is akin to us sinking into a warm bath after a long day.
The heat emanating from the shoe can provide a sense of security and warmth — a feeling every Labrador craves.
The padded insole can serve as a makeshift pillow that is perfect for a quick snooze or just a resting spot for their heads.
Beyond the physical attributes of shoes, there’s a psychological comfort Labradors derive. Shoes, especially those of their favorite human, carry the distinct scent of the owner.
For a Labrador, who navigates much of its world through its powerful sense of smell, being surrounded by the familiar scent can be immensely calming.
It’s an olfactory embrace which reminds them of the safety and affection they associate with their human companion.
Furthermore, Labradors, by nature, are den animals. In the wild, their ancestors sought out small, enclosed spaces for safety and rest.
Shoes, especially those that are slightly oversized mimic this enclosed feeling and provides a sense of refuge and solitude.
This behavior is not just a fleeting fancy but a manifestation of deep-rooted evolutionary behaviors.
Play for Labradors isn’t merely a means of expending energy or staving off boredom. It’s a bridge to interaction, a way of forming bonds and a mechanism for exploring their environment.
The varied textures of a shoe, be it the soft insole or the tougher exterior offer a delightful playground for their active mouths. The shoe’s shape, often resembling some of their favorite chew toys further amplifies its allure.
When a Labrador encounters a shoe, they don’t just see a foot covering; they perceive a toy brimming with potential fun.
Imagine a child presented with a new, unexplored toy. The child’s curiosity is piqued and they engage with the object, trying to discover all its nuances.
Similarly, the shoelaces, the heel, the curve of a shoe—all these features present a myriad of play opportunities for the Labrador. The way a shoe can be tossed, nudged or even hidden serves as an invitation for a spontaneous game of fetch or hide and seek.
Moreover, Labradors are keen observers. They often notice their human companions interacting with shoes daily, be it tying them, cleaning them or simply taking them off after a long day.
This consistent interaction subtly reinforces the idea in the Labrador’s mind that shoes are objects of interest, worth their attention.
A shoe’s position, scent and even its appearance might vary day by day, depending on where the owner has been or what they’ve been doing.
For instance, consider a simple scenario where a shoe, once placed neatly in a closet is now coated in mud and leaves after a walk in the park.To us, it’s a dirty shoe; but to a Labrador, it’s a novel toy holding a fresh set of mysteries — The dried leaves stuck to the sole or the different textures of mud might appear as puzzles waiting to be solved or treasures waiting to be unearthed.
8) Attention Seeking
To begin, Labradors are renowned for their sociable disposition. These dogs don’t just want to be around their human counterparts; they thrive on interactions, validations and consistent feedback from them.
Now, given that shoes are such personal items, closely associated with their owner, they inherently become objects of interest to the dog.
When a Labrador grabs a shoe, they instantly recognize that it’s not just any random toy; it’s something their human values.
Often, the behavior starts innocently enough.
A young Labrador might first become intrigued by the scent and texture of a shoe. Upon discovering that grabbing or gnawing at it evokes a reaction from their human – whether it’s a shout, a chase or even laughter – they quickly piece together a connection. Shoes become more than just objects; they become tools to elicit reactions.
Consider an instance where a Labrador feels that it isn’t receiving enough attention. Perhaps its owner is engrossed in work, a phone call or a television show.
The Labrador might remember that the last time it played with a shoe, its owner immediately shifted focus towards it. The shoe then becomes a bridge to regain that lost attention.
Moreover, Labradors, being as intelligent as they are, might not just stop at one shoe-related antic. Over time, they might develop a repertoire and vary their approach based on the reactions they wish to elicit.
For instance, they might parade a shoe in front of guests to bask in collective attention or they might playfully “hide” it, sparking a game of search and retrieve with their owner.
Also, Labradors are also very attuned to their environment and the emotional states of their owners.
If an owner is having a particularly stressful day, the Labrador might resort to behaviors that have historically lightened the mood or elicited laughter.
10-Step Training Action Plan On How To Train Your Lab To Stop Playing & Chewing On Shoes
1) Immediate Reaction
Timing is everything when correcting behavior. Just as a teacher needs to correct a student immediately to avoid reinforcing wrong answers, you should react instantly when your Lab takes a shoe.
But how immediate is “immediate?” Think of it this way: If you saw a toddler reaching for a sharp object, you wouldn’t wait for them to grab it. You’d react instantly.
With your Lab, it’s no different. If they even so much as sniff a shoe with the intention of picking it up, approach them calmly but swiftly.
By doing so, you’re nipping the undesirable behavior right in its infancy by teaching the dog that shoes aren’t play objects. Example: If your Lab is mid-way between fetching a shoe, call its name sharply and interrupt the action.
2) Firm Command
Clear communication is paramount. Telling your Lab a calm but firm “No” or “Drop it” the moment they go for a shoe will over time create a clear association.
But why calm? Picture this: You’re learning to cook, and every time you make an error, someone yells at you. The environment becomes tense and learning becomes challenging.
However, a calm correction, much like a chef guiding an apprentice can lead to better understanding. Your tone shouldn’t be perceived as a threat but as guidance.
3) Retrieve the Shoe
Actions speak louder than words, they say and rightly so. Once you’ve issued the command, approach your Lab, kneel to their level and gently take the shoe away.
But why kneel? When you tower over a dog, it can often be seen as a dominant and sometimes threatening gesture. By kneeling, you’re creating an environment of understanding, not confrontation.
Now, here’s the actionable tip: Replace the shoe with a toy they can chew on. This way, you’re not just saying, “Don’t do this,” you’re also suggesting, “Do this instead.” It’s a bit like redirecting a child’s attention from drawing on walls to drawing on paper.
By consistently replacing shoes with toys, you’re reinforcing that shoes aren’t playthings but other objects are.
4) Time-Out Session
Every so often, a Labrador needs a gentle reminder about boundaries. The concept here isn’t punishment but a brief pause for them to reflect.
Imagine being in a heated debate and taking a moment to breathe and collect your thoughts—that’s what a time-out session embodies. If your Lab repeatedly goes for shoes, lead them to a quiet, safe space that is devoid of distractions for a few minutes.
This area can be a separate room or a designated corner. The objective? Break the cycle of their misbehavior.
For instance, if your pooch has made it a morning ritual to snatch shoes, a brief 5-minute time-out can disrupt this pattern which then makes it reconsider its choices.
5) Reinforce the ‘Leave it’ Command
Consistency is the key in dog training. The ‘Leave it’ command is a crucial directive, not just for shoes but for their overall safety. It’s like telling a child not to touch a hot stove.
But how do you reinforce it? Start with a treat in one hand. Let your Lab see it, then close your fist and say ‘Leave it.’ The moment they stop trying to get the treat and pull away, reward them with a treat from the other hand.
This teaches them that obeying the command has its rewards. Apply this to shoes by placing one in their vicinity. As they approach, say ‘Leave it.’ The moment they hesitate or pull away, reward them.
For example, when it curiously sniffs around your sneakers, a timely ‘Leave it’ followed by a treat when it obliges can gradually cement the behavior.
6) Redirection to Appropriate Toys
Akin to substituting a child’s crayon doodling on walls with a coloring book, Labs too need appropriate outlets for their chewing tendencies.
It’s like swapping out a child’s candy for a fruit snack—both satisfy the sweet craving, but one’s healthier. So, every time your Lab lunges for a shoe, offer it a chew toy or a treat-dispensing toy.
Over time, it’ll associate the act of leaving shoes alone with getting its favorite toy, thus making your training efforts fruitful.
7) Consistent Repetition
In the world of dog training, repetition is the mother of retention. Just like humans take time to form a new habit, Labs need repetition to internalize commands and behaviors.
This repeated action ensures that the desired behavior becomes a deeply ingrained habit.
Remember, every time you let a misstep slide, you’re inadvertently teaching your Lab that it’s occasionally okay to play with shoes. Consistency eliminates such mixed signals.
8) Seek Immediate Behavior Distraction
The art of distraction is pivotal. When you see your Lab zeroing in on a shoe, immediately divert its attention. This could be through a sudden sound, a favorite toy or even a simple command like ‘Sit’.
The goal is to break the focus before it translates into action. Consider it akin to how, when studying, a sudden notification can divert our entire attention.
By consistently and immediately distracting your pooch every time its lured by shoes, it’ll soon associate the approach towards shoes with an immediate break in focus which over time can deter the very act of approaching.
9) Review and Reinforce Training Daily
Training isn’t a one-time task but an ongoing process much like how athletes train daily to maintain their performance.
Every day, take a few minutes to review the commands and behaviors you’ve taught your Lab. For instance, you might want to practice the ‘Leave it’ command with shoes, ensuring it still adheres to it.
Then, reinforce positive behavior with praises or treats. Think of it as a daily pop quiz to refresh their memory. This routine not only consolidates their learning but also reinforces the bond of trust and understanding between you and your Lab.
Over time, these daily revisions become less about command and more about spending quality time together.
10) Positive Reinforcement for Good Behavior
At its core, positive reinforcement revolves around the principle of rewarding desired behavior which makes it more likely for that behavior to be repeated in the future.
Consider a scenario: Each time your Lab successfully refrains from playing or chewing on a shoe, immediately reward them with a treat, praise or a favorite toy.
This immediate association of good behavior with a positive outcome ingrains a behavioral blueprint in the dog’s mind. They start understanding the equation – “ignoring shoes equals a treat or praise.”
For a Labrador, this process taps into their inherent desire to please their owners. When they understand that refraining from certain behaviors (like chewing on shoes) brings them appreciation and rewards, they’re naturally motivated to avoid the undesired action.
It’s essential, however, to ensure the reward is instantaneous to cement the positive association.Furthermore, by using positive reinforcement, you’re also fostering a bond of trust with your Lab. Instead of fearing repercussions for undesirable actions, they anticipate rewards for good behavior.
This creates a nurturing environment where your Lab feels safe and understood, making the training process smoother and more effective.
8 Preventive Tips to Prevent Shoe Playing and Chewing Behavior in Labradors
1) Puppy-Proof the Environment
At the heart of prevention lies anticipation, especially when it comes to Labrador puppies and their innate curiosity.
Picture the environment through the eyes of a puppy: everything is a potential plaything, with shoes being particularly enticing. This allure stems from the fact that shoes carry the scent of their owners, are often within easy reach and offer a texture that’s satisfying to chew on.
Therefore, proactively removing this temptation is paramount. Consider using shoe racks or designated closets to store footwear and ensure they’re elevated or behind closed doors.
2) Provide Adequate Exercise
One of the cornerstones of Labrador behavior management is understanding their inherent energy levels. Labradors that are originally bred for physically demanding tasks have retained their high energy.
If this energy isn’t expended, it often manifests in unwanted behaviors like chewing. Taking proactive steps such as scheduling daily walks, engaging in fetch sessions or participating in dog sports can effectively channel this energy.
For instance, a Labrador that’s been on a long hike or has spent an hour playing at a dog park is more likely to rest than engage in destructive behaviors.
These activities not only satiate their physical needs but also stimulate them mentally which keeps boredom at bay.
3) Offer Chewing Alternatives
It’s crucial to remember that chewing, to some extent is a natural and healthy activity for dogs, especially for puppies in their teething phase.
Denying them this instinctive urge isn’t the solution; instead, the focus should be on redirection.
When the urge to chew arises, it’s beneficial for Labradors to have appropriate outlets. Investing in durable chew toys which are designed to withstand the strong jaws of Labrador can be a godsend.
Some toys even come with the added advantage of being fillable with treats or peanut butter can prolong the dog’s interest and provide a rewarding experience.
By consistently offering these alternatives and praising the dog when it chooses them over a shoe, a positive association is established which then makes the chew toy the go-to option during teething or boredom.
4) Use Anti-Chew Sprays
Among the wide range of products available to deter unwanted chewing, anti-chew sprays stand out due to their efficacy.
These sprays are formulated with a taste that’s unpalatable to dogs which effectively makes the sprayed object, such as shoes much less appealing.
It’s important to test a small patch first to ensure the spray doesn’t damage or discolor the item and to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
5) Scheduled Feeding Times
Regularity in feeding plays a more significant role than one might initially think in deterring destructive behaviors.
Labradors with an inconsistent feeding schedule might resort to chewing as a way to cope with hunger or gastrointestinal discomfort.
Moreover, knowing their feeding times can reduce anxiety and the need for comfort-seeking behaviors such as chewing on shoes.
If, for instance, a Labrador tends to be more energetic post-feeding, this time can be utilized for play or training, further minimizing the likelihood of unwanted chewing.
At its core, training is about communication and understanding between the dog and the owner. A well-trained Labrador is more likely to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.
Basic obedience training that includes commands like “leave it” or “drop it” can be invaluable in situations where the dog might be tempted to chew on a shoe.
Moreover, consistent positive reinforcement for obeying commands or for choosing appropriate chew toys over shoes strengthens desirable behaviors.
For those unfamiliar with dog training techniques, attending puppy or dog obedience classes can provide a structured environment for both the dog and owner to learn.
Keep in mind that training isn’t just about correcting undesirable behaviors but fostering a deeper bond and understanding between the dog and owner.
7) Monitor Teething
Teething is a natural process for Labradors as they grow but it can be accompanied by discomfort that lead to an increased desire to chew on things.
As puppies lose their baby teeth and adult ones start to emerge, their gums can become sore and swollen. This makes them seek out items to chew on to seek relief. Shoes, given their accessible location and texture, can often be prime targets.
Being aware of this stage in a Labrador’s life allows owners to be proactive. Providing appropriate chew toys specifically designed for teething can make a significant difference.
These toys can often be chilled to offer additional relief to sore gums.
8) Address Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is a common issue with many dogs, including Labradors. When left alone, they may feel anxious, stressed or bored and these feelings can manifest as destructive behaviors including chewing on shoes.
The shoes carrying the scent of their owners can be particularly appealing to an anxious dog as they provide a form of comfort. Addressing the root cause of the anxiety is crucial.
For severe cases, consulting with a veterinarian or a canine behaviorist can provide tailored strategies and interventions to address and reduce the anxiety to ensuring the well-being of the dog while also safeguarding one’s belongings.