If you’ve ever owned a Labrador, you’re probably familiar with instances where you’ve lost your favorite pair of socks, only to find out later that your pooch had stolen them. Or when you have caught your Lab red-handed roaming around with your socks in its mouth.
Labrador’s obsession with socks have been a recurring theme amongst this breed in particular. And there seems to be no end to this quirkiness.
So Why Do Labradors Love Socks So Much? Here’s Why:
Labradors have a strong innate desire to carry something in their mouths thanks to their instinctive retrieving abilities. Coupled with the fact that socks are easily accessible and they reek of the owner’s scent, Labradors can’t help but to have an affinity for them compared to other potential loot items.
The sock’s small size portable nature, alongside its smooth and comfortable texture that has the whiff of the owner triggers a positive association with Labs. Hence, making them the go-to item for comfort, positive association and chewing as means of releasing their pent-up energy if they are mentally understimulated and bored.
It’s crucial to understand the reasons behind this peculiar behavior before taking the necessary steps to nip it in the bud before it gets worse.
In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the 4 main reasons why Labs have a knack for socks and we’ll then go over 5 preventive steps on how to curb this quirkiness of theirs.
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.
4 Main Reasons Why Labs Love Socks
1) Those Socks Have Your Smell On Them
Most Labradors have a knack for being sock theives, and it’s most prevalent amongst Labradors compared to other dog breeds. They love stealing our socks, underwears, or even sweaty clothes simply because these stuffs have our strong odor on them.
Socks have been the go-to loot item for Labs due to its ease of portability thanks to its small sizes that easily fits a Lab’s mouths. Besides that, the soft and pliable nature of the socks, coupled with their owner’s scent on them, are highly appealing to Labs who love to carry and chew soft toys or objects.
The other reason why socks, in particular, are the favorite loot item of these goofy Labs is because it has your sweat odor on it and since each human foot has approximately 125,000 sweat glands which secrete salt, among all other secretions — it definitely does attract the nose buds of a Labrador. Labs love salt. And couple that with your odor, it’s no surprise why these goofy Labs are fond of socks.
It’s also a way for them to seek your attention by retrieving the stolen socks back to you in exchange for praises. Also, most Labs engage in these goofy antics as a way to mentally and physically stimulate themselves by exploring around the house as they are curious creatures by nature if they aren’t properly crate-trained, exercised or mentally stimulated.
Related Article: Why Do Labradors Steal Things? (and Food!) What To Do About It?
2) Natural Retrieving Instincts
Labradors have exceptionally strong natural retrieving instincts which are genetically ingrained in this breed. They have a natural disposition to always want to have something in their soft mouths and to carry them as they were bred to be hunting and retrieving dogs back in the day.
Labs would get highly praised for their exceptional waterfowl and object retrieving skills back in its inception years. And they have since instinctually correlated retrieving of objects to praises and attention as per a study.
A pair of socks are oftentimes a substitute loot item for balls and shoes thanks to its ease of accessibility in the house, smaller size, soft texture, great portability, lightweight and on top of all of that, it reeks of a strong owner’s scent. All of which make socks a prime target for looting.
Apart from that, a Labrador may also exhibit signs of happiness by grabbing socks in their mouths as a way to retrieve them back to you in order to please you since they're well aware that the socks mean something to you. Or to gain your attention for a playtime when they are bored.
Labradors are high energy dogs and since they have such strong drives to hold something in their mouths, chewing is an inevitable urge that is highly prevalent in this breed.
And what better soft loot item a Labrador could possibly chew on other than a pair of socks that reeks of its owner’s smell?
When their natural energy-driven oral fixation and chewing tendencies aren’t addressed through proper outlets with engagement of proper soft toys and bones without adequate mental stimulation, exercise and given attention — they will resort to their own fun of stealing socks to entertain themselves out of boredom.
You might also be interested in Why Do Labs Like Shoes? (8 Reasons + Tips On What To Do)
4) Learned Self Rewarding Behavior
Since socks are easily accessible around the house, coupled with its strong association to the owners, grabbing socks away can be a very self rewarding behavior if they continue to get away with it. This is because the satisfaction that comes with snuggling, chewing and playing with the socks reinforces the behavior, thus making it a habit over time.
Improperly trained Labradors might also have mistakenly perceived easily accessible items such as socks to be given the green light to steal away from willy-nilly if they’re not supervised enough.
Especially when the Labs have inadvertently received attention from their owners right after sneakily stealing socks in the past. This then creates a positive feedback loop, thus inadvertently reinforcing the behavior if their antics continue to go unchecked.
This unchecked self rewarding behavior is problematic and mostly prevalent amongst Labradors that aren’t mentally and physically stimulated enough, and when they have not received adequate attention and exercise with no proper chewing outlets for their high-energy output.
5 Preventive Tips To Keep Them Away From Socks
Though their obsession with socks may seem cute and amusing, but it’s important to note that this sort of behavior will branch out into other mischievous deeds if not nipped in the bud early on.
What’s worse is your pooch could potentially swallow the socks out of curiosity which may lead to intestinal damage and other health related problem. The last thing you’d ever want is to spend a fortune on their vet bills as a result of their mischievous antics.
Hence why it’s of paramount importance to redirect them away from stealing socks into other beneficial activities through proper management and training, apart from establishing preventive methods in keeping the socks at bay.
1) Redirect Them Away From The Socks, and Never Punish Them For It.
Punishment or any negative reinforcements are not the best effective method in correcting your pooch's behavior because they do not learn from negative reactions to their behavior. Nor can they be corrected through unnecessary punishments and it will only make them be scared of you, thus changing the dynamics of your relationship to the Lab long-term.
Constantly saying the word “No” or “Leave It” to their stealing tendencies or any other bad behaviors without any subsequent positive redirection is also counterproductive.
This is because although Labradors may pick up your unfavorable cues, body language & tones and associate them to negativity in the moment — they won’t connect the voice specifically with that behavior. Chances are your Lab will keep stealing and grabbing socks in the future and you’ll get stuck in an endless loop of saying “No” and “Leave It” to their bad behaviors overall.
Also, be sure to never overuse the “No” commands for every single one of their other mischievous antics or otherwise, they will never be able to pinpoint such commands to any particular negative actions. Be creative in your initial reprehensive low toned commands for their other antics, i.e different social cues & body languages.
2) Keep The Socks At Bay
Lab owners have to also play their part by NOT making socks easily accessible to their Labs. Lab owners need to completely remove the possibility of their Labs ever finding socks and eventually those cheeky Labs will learn that stealing socks actually isn’t self-rewarding and the behavior will slowly die off.
Owners can do that either by revoking their Labs’ access to the laundry area, rooms, basement, dryer as well as to the drying area outside. For instance, owners could install pet gates at the entrances of the mentioned prohibited areas to block their Lab’s access.
Not only could it lead to accidental swallowing, but their inclination to socks could also result in a persistent unpleasant odor even after a shower.
3) Utilize Proper Management Tools
Also, a quick short fix would be temporarily putting them on a house line or in a crate so they can be prevented from stealing anything. You can also have a trigger loot item presented to them when on a house line, and train them to retrieve those looted items back to you in exchange for tricks, followed by praises and affection as positive reinforcements.
Make sure your pooch has properly been crate-trained or doesn’t suffer from separation anxiety if you’re going to crate them temporarily for not being able to supervise them. Here’s a recommended crate (Amazon) for your Lab.
Being crated helps with impulse control in dogs, and may ward off unwanted behaviors as they learn to wind down in their safe space instead of getting all hyped-up from too much free-roaming with no structure in place. Crate also builds patience, structure and discipline in dogs as they will not be tempted to engage in destructive behaviors while free-roaming.
You might also be interested in Why Are Labradors So Loving and Affectionate? (7 Reasons + 31 Ways Labs Show Affection)
4) Keep Labs Busy With Tons of Chewing Toys & Bones
Apart from that, supplying them with appropriate chewing toys and rubber bones (Amazon) should be able to deter them from releasing their pent-up energies on destructive behaviors such as chewing on socks or stealing them. It’s crucial to have their natural chewing urges met via proper outlets instead of leaving them to their own devices, in which you wouldn’t be pleased with the outcomes at all.
5) Plenty of Exercise and Mental Stimulation Activities
Last but not least, be sure to adequately exercise your high energy Labs and have them mentally stimulated on a daily basis in order to tire them out. A bored Lab is a mischievous Lab.
This is because Labs require copious amounts of exercise and mental stimulation to burn off their excess high energy. Or otherwise, they might channel their pent-up energy into being destructive dogs that’ll look for ways to entertain themselves, i.e stealing and chewing on socks.
Hence, it’s important to provide your Labradors with a suitable outlet for their energy through adequate exercise and mentally-challenging games or activities to maintain their overall well-being and to keep them out of trouble. For instance, you could actively engage your Lab in either one of these activities:
- Take them for a 30 to 45 minutes daily walk.
- Play fetch or Frisbees (Amazon) with them daily or any activities that involve tons of running as a substitute to walking.
- Have them go through agility exercises (Amazon) daily, which involves running through a course of obstacles such as tunnels, jumps, and weave poles.
- Take them out on a hike as they make good hiking partners.
- Mentally-stimulating games such as these recommended puzzle toys (Amazon), nose works (Amazon), treat dispensing interactive dog toys to keep them busy and out of trouble. It also sharpens their mind and boost their intelligence significantly.
If you were to take these preventive steps into action, I can almost guarantee you that your pooch will never ever engage in destructive behavior nor will it steal your socks out of boredom anymore for the long run.
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