Canine Criminality: A paint-by-numbers approach to fostering delinquency

Does your dog thieve from the dustbin when you're at work?  Mine does, and I wanted to share the complete and whole honest truth about how I trained him to do so. 
I'm talking about you, Mischa. 


If your dog simply refuses to use his innate safe-cracking skills to plunder your garbage bin, take heart.  With a few simple steps, you can change your Polly-Anna into a perfect pirate. 

Step one.  Increase the level of difficulty slowly.

Your dog needs to succeed relatively often, especially in early training.  For example, once your budding convict has learned how to open your cabinets with ease, make the cupboard door harder - but not impossible - to open.  Install a new latch which requires a firmer tug, but not a handle that needs to be turned... not yet, anyways.  You'll get there, I promise. 

If success eludes your apprentice thief he may simply give up and live a law-abiding life.  Going slow now ensures that your dog will be willing and ready to knuckle down later when you install multi-component locking hasps.

Step two.  Ensure there are generally goods to be plundered.

You must ensure there is something delicious for your dog to "find."  Confirm that a good supply of mature rubbish awaits behind every locked door.  Now is not the time to be finicky about taking the garbage out to the garage ...unless, of course, you'd like your dog to ransack that location too.  Think big! 

One catch:  if garbage availability is slightly random (Tuesdays and Fridays he gets garbage, Wednesdays he gets nothing, for example) this will actually be beneficial to your cause.  It will teach him to be persistent in checking the cabinet, even if there are many days in a row without success.  Many, many, many days.  In fact, you can train him to keep checking the cabinet for the rest of his crooked life by using this handy technique. 

Step three.  Put the behaviour on cue.

For accuracy, your dog should only thieve when you are not around.  Broad daylight robbery must not be tolerated.  In essence, the "cue" for him to plunder is the human is absent. 

You have several training options here.  First, you may simply ensure the dog is never rewarded for thievery when you are there: the garbage is empty or placed up and away.  The dog eventually learns that IF human is home THEN garbage is empty.  However, this type of learning can be frankly frustrating (imagine you have a complex shift-work schedule that no one will explain.  To map it out, you have to head to work as often as possible and see if you get paid for that time.  Not fun.)

Second, and perhaps a more gracious option for your fledgling filcher, you can watch for any thieving behaviour when you are in the kitchen and actively let him know that the time is not right.  Wait for him to head towards the garbage cupboard, and only then move the garbage away or gently lead him out of the kitchen.  These actions are very informative for your dog - they let him know "not now."  He will then reasonably ask himself, "OK, when?"  You have nicely set the stage for him to learn that when you are gone, the time is right.

Step four.  Act like you had no part in it.

When you pop home en route to a business lunch with your new boss in tow only to find your collection of recently-tossed Justin Bieber posters decorated with glitter-painted macaroni spread around the living room floor, it's imperative to act innocent.  "I have no idea how he managed to get into the dead-bolted and barricaded cabinet!" you can gasp in mock horror.  Rest assured, however, in your knowledge that you have indeed played a part in creating this lovable monster.  You simply followed the plan. 

Photo: By Tedmen123 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Kristi BensonComment