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Why is My Dog Stealing Food? 5 Reasons & How to Stop It

Brooke Billingsley

By Brooke Billingsley

Dog Eating Steak

If your dog is stealing food from you or other pets in the home, it can be extremely frustrating. In some cases, it can lead to other pets getting too little to eat because an overly exuberant dog is stealing their food. There are multiple reasons your dog may be stealing food, though, and it’s important to understand why your dog may be stealing food so you can fix the behavior.

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Top 5 Reasons Dogs Steal Food:

1. Hunger

Coon Hound Eating
Image Credit: SillyDogPhotos, Shutterstock
Type of problem Physiological, medical
Trainability Variable

The simplest explanation for why your dog may be stealing food is that they are hungry. However, there are a ton of reasons why your dog may be hungry enough to steal food. If your dog has recently been placed on a calorie-restricted diet, for example, they may feel a higher hunger sensation than what their body needs. However, if your dog has suddenly developed excess hunger, then there is a reason for concern. Some medical problems can lead to excess hunger, but so can things as simple as an increase in activity or a change in food.

2. Boredom

Bored Giant Black Schnauzer dog is lying next to the robotic vacuum cleaner_frank11_shutterstock
Image Credit: Frank11, Shutterstock
Type of problem Physiological, psychological
Trainability High

A bored dog is more likely to get into trouble of some kind than an entertained dog. Sometimes, bored dogs will begin acting out, whether for attention or simply for having something to do, and some of these dogs will turn to food stealing. This may occur right in front of you, or it may occur when nobody is around to see it happen.

To keep your dog from being bored, make sure you invest time in their training and wellbeing every day. Daily exercise, games, and puzzles can all help prevent a bored dog and keep your dog in line.

3. Resource Guarding

angry black dog protects his food in a metal bowl
Image Credit: Lipa23, Shutterstock
Type of problem Behavioral, psychological
Trainability Moderate

Resource guarding is a behavioral issue that is unlikely to appear overnight. Oftentimes, dogs with resource guarding tendencies have experienced some kind of trauma that has left them with a need to protect high-value resources, like food. However, some dogs develop this behavior due to genetics or environmental factors.

Resource guarding is often accompanied with aggression toward humans and other animals, and it may require a veterinary behaviorist or an experienced trainer to remedy. If you believe your dog is stealing food because the food is present and they see it as a resource they need to protect, you should reach out to a professional for guidance.

4. Lack of Training

teaching a dog to lie down
Image Credit: encierro, Shutterstock
Type of problem Training
Trainability High

Despite our best efforts as pet owners, many of us overlook some aspects of training when it comes to our dogs. Many dogs steal food simply because they were never taught not to do so. This is a common issue with dogs that counter surf or steal food directly from the kitchen counters or table.

These dogs often steal food when nobody is around to stop them, so they receive the immediate reward of the food. By the time you realize they stole the food, your dog already forgot what they did, and any attempt at correction you may try will leave your dog anxious and confused. Crate training, baby gates, keeping food fully out of reach, and focused training exercises can all be used to remedy this type of behavior.

5. Reward

the Cute red dog eats corn cob_a_v_d_shutterstcok
Image Credit: a_v_d, Shutterstock
Type of problem Behavioral, training
Trainability Moderate

This goes hand in hand with a variety of other issues, but food stealing creates a sensation of an instant reward for your dog. They don’t need you there to reward them for the behavior when they steal food because the reward is built into the action.

The more high-value the reward your dog receives, the more likely they are to continue with the behavior. This means that if your dog steals something that is of high value to them, like a whole chicken or a bowl of cat food, then they are more likely to repeat the behavior than they might be if the reward was a bowl of broccoli. This issue requires training your dog out of a behavior they’ve already taught to themselves, which can be challenging and may require the assistance of an experienced trainer.

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How to Stop Your Dog From Stealing Food

It can be really difficult to determine why your dog is stealing food in order to remedy the issue. You may need to start with some positive reinforcement and other training techniques, as well as increasing play and exercise to ensure your dog is not bored. Working on training exercises that require your dog to listen to your commands can help you stop your dog from stealing food when caught in the act, and a solid grasp of commands like “drop it” can be a lifesaver here.

In some cases, a professional may need to intervene to help correct your dog’s behavior or underlying medical condition. A veterinarian should evaluate your dog if you feel they are staying excessively hungry to rule out serious medical conditions and to give you suggestions on helping improve your dog’s satiety with meals. A veterinary behaviorist or experienced trainer may be required for some of the behavioral and training-related causes of food stealing.

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It’s not uncommon for dogs to steal food, but it is frustrating to deal with, especially if your dog is stealing food when nobody is around. It can be difficult to untrain this type of behavior in most dogs, but it’s not impossible. A professional may need to help you work through the process with your dog. Make sure to keep food out of reach of your dog at all times, especially any food that can be potentially dangerous to your dog, like chocolate and foods containing cooked bones.


Featured Image Credit: A.P.S.Photography, Shutterstock

Brooke Billingsley

Authored by

Brooke Billingsley spent nine years as a veterinary assistant before becoming a human nurse in 2013. She resides in Arkansas with her boyfriend of five years. She loves all animals and currently shares a home with three dogs, two cats, five fish, and two snails. She has a soft spot for special needs animals and has a three-legged senior dog and an internet famous cat with acromegaly and cerebellar hypoplasia. Fish keeping...Read more

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