Stealing can be a very annoying proble in dogs. Dogs sometimes steal their owners’ personal items in an apparent bid for attention – which is inevitably given. It is hard to resist running after your dog as he runs through the house with your prized pair of shoes. What seems like disobedience to you looks like a game of chase to your dog.  If that is one of the ways that he gains attention from you, he will repeat this behavior again and again. A recent study published in Animal Cognition (Kaminski, J; Pitsch, A; Tomasello, M.) suggests that your dog wouldn’t be as likely to steal if you kept the lights on.  

The research subjects were pet dogs who had been taught not to steal food. The experimental design consisted of a person in the room and a piece of food a couple of feet away. The dogs were tested under 4 conditions: 1) lights off; 2) person-light/food-dark; 3) food-light/person-dark, and lights on.  

Results show that dogs steal significantly more frequently when the room was completely dark and least when the room was completely lit. Furthermore, the dogs who did steal the food were significantly more likely to do so when the food was in the dark even when the person sitting nearby was in the light and the dog could see them. 

What do these results mean? Well, in this group of pet dogs, the presence of a person sitting nearby, looking at them in a well-lit space didn’t make any difference in the dog’s likelihood of stealing. Instead, the most significant factor was whether the food itself was in the dark. In other words, the sight of a person doesn’t act as a deterrent to stealing food.

So, should you leave your valuables in the light to keep your dog from stealing them? Well, you could try, but that would make for a pretty large electric bill. Instead, try the tips below to keep your dog from stealing your stuff.  

Stealing can be greatly reduced by

  1. Teach the dog how to get your attention by exhibiting calm behaviors. Ask him to sit before he gets any attention from you.
  2. Pick up your things and close the doors to rooms where your dog doesn’t need to go.
  3. Keep your dog well exercised.
  4. Keep your dog well enriched with lots of toys and things to destroy.
  5. Rotate your dog’s toys so that he gets three new ones each day in addition to what is in his toy box.
  6. Keep the lights on?? Maybe.