Why Do Labradors Steal Things? (and Food!) What To Do About It?

By Benjamin Tash

Labradors can be extremely opportunistic in circumstances when the options for stealing present itself. These cheeky Labs are notoriously known to be the culprits for missing socks, underwears, destroyed remote controls alongside sneaking up and stealing food.

Though these harmless quirks of theirs may seem goofy, but they can be a nuisance at times.

Here’s Why Labradors Steal Things and Food:

Labradors tend to steal things and food when they lack the boundaries, discipline and supervision from their parent owners. Labs are also known to be food-motivated and are highly intelligent in having an eye for details around the house, hence making them pretty good at sneaking up and stealing food and things. Also, a bored and mentally understimulated Labrador would usually resort to stealing things as a way to entertain themselves and to seek attention when they are left to their own devices.

It’s crucial to understand the reasons behind this behavior in order to properly nip it in the bud before it spirals out of control. In this article, we’ll also dive deeper into the necessary steps that should be taken to address this behavior. So let’s get started.

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4 Main Reasons Why Labradors Like To Steal Things & Food Around The House

1) Food-motivated

Apart from the carelessness of Lab owners of leaving out food in the open and not dog-proofing their trash cans, there are other factors as to why Labs are notorious food thieves.

Their obsession for food is genetically predisposed in their DNA. According to a scientific study, Labs in particular lack the ability to feel full due to a unique gene variant found in these species compared to other breeds.

Apart from that, their breed history of working together with fishermen in hunting and fishing operations which relied on food positive reinforcements also plays a major role as to why these cheeky Labs are so food-driven.

Their high energy levels for physical activities, coupled with a lack of mental stimulation around the house may also lead to your pooch stealing food or leftovers as a part of their natural instincts to forage for food. It doesn’t always necessarily mean that they’re hungry though.

Besides that, a Labrador’s constant cheekiness of stealing food is also due to  easy positive food reinforcements from past activities. Labrador’s ease of trainability thanks to their food and treats positive reinforcements may actually backfire when they’re used to it — and when they’re highly rewarded for it on top of that.

Recommended Reading: Should Labradors Eat Grain-Free? (Important Facts You Must Know)

2) Those Things Have Our Scent On Them.

Labradore have a knack for stealing our socks, underwears, or even sweaty clothes simply because these stuffs have our strong odor on them.

And Labs would in turn find tremendous comfort in our odor found in these stuffs, especially when they’re sleeping in their crates or in our absence with those looted items.

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.

Not to mention that Labradors have a great sense of smell compared to other dog breeds thanks to their larger snouts and olfactory receptors, hence why they make great sniffers and wouldn’t hesitate in stealing some of your things to their own benefit.

Related Article: Why Do Labradors Love Socks? (4 Reasons & 5 Tips Explained)

3) Boredom.

High energy Labradors have an eye for detail around the house and would resort to entertaining themselves when they are not mentally stimulated enough around the house.

When left to their own devices, curious Labradors would most likely double down on their efforts of seeking your attention by stealing things, chewing household items, excessive barks as they get restless.

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Also, bored and understimulated Labradors would also revert to their strong natural retrieving instincts when they get bored and all hyped up from the pent-up energy. They would steal and grab shoes, socks or even underwear by their mouths as a way to retrieve them back to you as a way to please you. Or to gain your attention when they are bored.

Labs would get highly praised for their exceptional waterfowl and object retrieving skills back in the day. And they have since instinctually correlated retrieving and carrying of objects to praises and attention as per a study. Hence why your pooch loves to steal things when they don’t have anything better to do.

Check also: Why Are Labradors So Annoying? (21 Reasons Explained)

4) Lack Of Training and Supervision

Labradors thrive with human companionship, attention and with proper training. Therefore, an untrained and unsupervised Lab would almost always land itself into trouble by engaging in destructive behavior as they can’t differentiate the right from wrong due to a lack of consequences.

An untrained Lab would also have extreme difficulties in following commands, thus making it harder for parent owners to correct and take charge of their dog’s behavior and etiquette around the house. A lack of rules and structure would also translate to an undisciplined pooch which would act upon their impulses willy-nilly.

Since most owners would use positive reinforcement on Labradors with treats or stuffed toys as rewards; unsupervised Labradors would quickly associate those particular food, any similar looking items or items with the same scent laying around the house to positivity, thus grabbing them away as if it’s their own.

Hence why it’s crucial to train Labradors to not steal unattended food or items.

You might also be interested in this article: How To Stop Lab From Counter Surfing? (13 Action Plan Guide + Tips)

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Do Labs Grow Out Of Stealing Things?

Labradors are likely to never grow out of stealing things if they haven’t been reprimanded or trained for the better. Even if they were to be trained and reprimanded for stealing, their negative stealing tendencies would greatly diminish but they’ll still grab things away at times due to their natural instincts.

This is because Labs are high energy dogs and coupled with their natural retrieving instincts, it's totally normal for Labradors to always want to hold something in their mouths for a bit of an action. This retrieving drive present in this breed is just another way for Labs to entertain themselves for further mental and physical stimulation.

Also, most Labradors physically mellow out at the age range of 8 to 10 — hence their need for mental and physical stimulations is here to stay, and they would resort to their instinctual stealing behavior or oral fixation if they’re understimulated or bored.

Though most Labradors calm down and are much more disciplined after their puppyhood, they retain their playful, goofy, energetic personality and retrieving instincts all their lives. And that is what so endearing about these pooches.

You might also be interested in how this tendency affects their mortality rate: Why Do Labradors Die Young? (7 Reasons You Should Know + Tips For Longevity)

Should You Admonish Your Lab For Stealing Things?

Labrador’s stealing behavior can be nipped in the bud through proper management and redirective training.

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 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 things in the future and you’ll get stuck in an endless loop of saying “No” and “Leave It” to their bad behaviors overall.

Whenever you catch your Labrador in the act of stealing food or things, you’ll want to effectively train it on the spot to retrieve the item back to you followed by verbal praises and affection as positive reinforcements. You may initially use the “Leave It” or “No” command to deter it from stealing in the first place, but always make sure to subsequently train them to retrieve the items back to you right in the moment.

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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.

Lab owners have to also play their part by not making easy targets accessible to their Labs. Keep all socks, remote controls and other stolen items out of reach from them, apart from dog-proofing the trash can. This is because easily accessible stolen loots or food to Labs can be very self-rewarding.

They’ll continue to steal and grab things away if they can get away with it without breaking a sweat unsupervised.

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Lab owners need to completely remove the possibility of their Labs ever finding anything and eventually those cheeky Labs will learn that stealing actually isn’t rewarding and the behavior will slowly die off. Owners can do that either by removing everything Labs could possibly steal from the kitchen, laundry, or rooms etc. by revoking access to such places when they’re not under direct supervision. A recommended pet gate will also do the trick in combating this issue.

Or a quick short fix would be temporarily putting them on a house line 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 followed by tricks, praises and affection as positive reinforcements.

Read also on how a Labrador’s tendency to steal food may contribute to them.having sensitive stomachs: Do Labradors Have Sensitive Stomachs? (6 Reasons + 10 Tips You Must Know)

How To Train Labradors To Retrieve Stolen Items Back To You.

As discussed earlier, reprimands or “Leave It” commands alone aren’t usually effective in combating their stealing behaviors. It’s best to instead redirect their behavior through proper training and positive reinforcements.

Whenever you catch your Labrador red-handed stealing things around the house, it’s best to initially use unfavorable social cues with a low toned voice to deter them from stealing — followed by the retrieving training with tons of positive affirmations and reinforcements.

The retrieving training of stolen items doesn’t necessarily have to be conducted right in the moment when they get caught though, you can do it at anytime to prevent unwanted future thefts aside from polishing their retrieving skills.

But it’s highly recommended to redirect them through training when they get caught stealing in the moment.

Here’s how to properly train your Labrador from retrieving stolen items back to you beforehand:

Step 1

  • Use a high quality treat or your Labrador’s favorite treat with your pooch in front of you. And roll the treat on the ground to one side.
  • And as your Lab collects it off of the floor, you’ll want to call it back to you and as they move toward you, you gradually move away and roll another treat on the ground. As it eats the treat off the ground, move away in the opposite direction again and call them back.
  • Repeat step 1 till your Labrador understands that coming back to you is associated with treats and affection.

Step 2

  • Introduce a toy and toss it off to a side and when your pooch collects it; back away a little in the opposite direction and call it back. As it makes its way back to you with the toy, grab the toy from your pooch and roll the other treat on the ground.
  • And as your dog runs after the treat, move away in the opposite direction and call it back. As it comes running to you, toss the toy again and expect the Lab to then chase the toy. And repeat step 2 for as many times as possible till your Lab successfully retrieves the toy back to you upon command.

If your Lab has a hard time retrieving the toy back to you and it runs away with the toy instead, you might want to train your Lab to run and chase after TWO of its favorite toys in the opposite direction as mentioned in Step 2 and reward them with treats for it.

  • Grab one of your Lab’s favorite toy and toss it to a side. With another toy in your hand, move away and call it back. As it makes its way to you for the second toy, grab the first toy it retrieves and toss the second toy in the opposite direction.
  • When your Lab runs after the second toy, move away and call it back again with your first toy in hand. And repeat these steps till your pooch recognizes the positive reinforcements in running back to you with the toy.

Step 3

Once your Labrador is able to retrieve the toy back to you for the treats mentioned in Step 2, it’s time to move on to Step 3 with a target stolen item, such as socks — a favorite Labrador loot item.

  • Toss its favorite loot item to a side and after the Lab collects the sock, move away a little and call them back with its favorite treat in hand.
  • Once your pooch makes it way to you, give it a treat in exchange for the sock. And toss the sock again in the opposite direction. Move away a bit as usual, and call it back for another treat.
  • Once your Lab comes back to you again with the sock in its mouth, exchange the sock for a treat and repeat steps 3 until your Lab consistently brings back your sock upon command.

The treats merely serve as a positive reinforcement in the beginning, and sooner or later, you’d be able to have your Lab bringing back to you the loot items upon command without treats involved because it has associated retrieving to positivity, affection and verbal praises from you.

Not only will these steps help you to start to get your dog to bring the toy or stolen items back, but they will also help teach them how to play fetch and how to bring the toy to you for a game of tug.

Here’s a video example for the steps mentioned above:

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