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Why do dogs like dirty undies?

Dogs have some strange habits that may seem gross or embarrassing to humans, but are completely natural dog behaviors. One of the most notorious is their attraction to dirty underwear, socks, or other intimate garments. There are several theories as to why dogs are drawn to the smell and taste of these private articles of clothing.

The Scent of Familiarity

For dogs, smells are far more important than visual cues. While humans see the world primarily in color and form, dogs experience it mostly through their noses. So when a dog comes across something that holds a familiar and appealing scent, they are naturally inclined to investigate it further. The smell of a family member’s underwear or socks provides that familiar olfactory sensation.

Underwear holds sweat and skin oils that provide a rich scent profile of that person. The dog associates that smell with feelings of comfort and security from their beloved human. It’s nostalgic in the same way that a favorite childhood toy or blanket provides positive associations. The underwear smells like “home” and their favorite people, so they are instinctively attracted to it.

Linked to Security and Safety

Dogs have a strong pack mentality and bonding to their family members. Items that hold the scent of trusted humans provide a sense of comfort. This harkens back to their ancestral roots when dogs would only feel safe and secure when surrounded by their pack.

So gravitating towards dirty laundry items that smell strongly like family is natural instinct. The underwear smells like an essential human pack member, so they seek it out in the same way that they eagerly await the return of a family member who’s been away.

Nurturing Protective Instincts

In addition to providing security, human scents also trigger a dog’s natural protective instincts. Dogs have an inherited drive to watch over and defend their pack. When they come across clothing that smells like a vulnerable pack member, it activates those guarding instincts.

They recognize the smell as someone who requires their protection. So even if the human is not present, finding their dirty underwear allows the dog to feel like it’s watching over the absent person. This fulfills their innate need to protect their family members.

The Allure of Forbidden Fruit

There’s also an element of the “forbidden fruit” phenomenon when it comes to dogs nosing through dirty laundry. Dogs love anything they’re not supposed to have, like shoes, table scraps, trash, used tissues etc. Laundry hampers and clothes waiting to be washed hold all kinds of intriguing smells that humans don’t want dogs interacting with.

So when a dog manages to snag a pair of dirty underwear, they see it like winning a prize. They know humans don’t want them to take underwear or socks from the laundry basket. Some dogs will even run and hide when caught with underwear, since they know it’s off limits. The “taboo” nature of the garment makes it even more enticing.

Opportunistic Scavengers

Many dog behaviorists also point to the opportunistic scavenger nature of canines. In the wild, wolves and other wild dogs will eat any food they come across and hide leftovers for later. Though domesticated, this instinct still exists in our pet dogs.

When they find readily available food sources like trash or dirty dishes, they can’t resist checking it out. Underwear often has urine or vaginal discharge stains, which are protein sources dogs are naturally drawn to. So for some dogs, dirty underwear may register as potential food.

Easy Accessibility

The laundry room and hamper also provide convenient access to dirty underwear. Dogs are skilled thieves, quietly nosing into places we don’t pay close attention to. As natural scavengers, they have no shame about rummaging through private laundry piles in search of exciting scents.

Their lightning fast speed and stealth allows them to snatch underwear before their human notices. So the underwear provides irresistible smell sensations and it’s easy for dogs to steal without getting caught.

Genetic Makeup and Breed Instincts

Certain breeds and backgrounds make a dog more inclined to fixate on underwear. Much of the behavior links back to their ancestry and the jobs they were originally bred for.

Breed Reason for Underwear Attraction
Beagles Excellent sense of smell and tracking instincts
Labrador Retrievers Strong retrieve drive and mouth-oriented nature
Dachshunds Tenacious hunting instincts as scent hounds
Terriers Feisty scavenging tendencies
Herding Dogs Instinct to follow and monitor their human “flock”

Scent hounds like Beagles and Bloodhounds have a heightened sense of smell that draws them to strong odors like soiled underwear. They feel compelled to sniff it out and follow the scent trail.

Sporting dogs like Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers have a soft “mouth” for carrying prey and retrieved objects. So picking up, mouthing and chewing on underwear satisfies their genetic retrieve impulse.

Tenacious vermin-hunting Terriers can’t resist underwear because it allows them to express their instinct to catch intriguing scents. Herders like Border Collies or Australian Shepherds are motivated to collect and corral objects their family has touched.

Even mixed breed dogs might be more prone underwear-seeking if they have prominent scent hound, sporting, or herding dog lineage. So genetic background plays a role in which dogs exhibit this behavior most persistently.

Health Reasons for Underwear Chewing

While underwear chewing is normal, dogs that eat the material can potentially become ill. Swallowing fabric or lace can cause internal blockages or choking hazards.

Some health conditions also cause dogs to obsessively mouth or chew on non-food items like clothing and fabrics. These include:

Dental Problems

Chewing on cloth items can sometimes signal dental pain in dogs. If a dog has fractured teeth, gum infection, or an abscess, the pressure from chewing underwear may help relieve oral discomfort. Any prolonged fixation on fabric chewing could indicate a mouth injury or toothache.

Nutritional Deficiencies

A lack of vital nutrients in a dog’s diet, like vitamins, minerals, or fatty acids, can cause cravings for inappropriate items. They begin compulsively licking or eating fabrics, dirt or feces. This condition is called pica. Underwear chewing may result from deficiencies or malnutrition.

Digestive Disorders

Some dogs eat fabrics or other inedible things because of conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatic or liver problems. The disorder causes stomach irritation and pain, which the dog tries soothing by compulsively chewing and swallowing strange items.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD behaviors like excessive licking, tail chasing, or chewing at their own feet or limbs can extend to underwear and fabric destruction. The dog is compelled to mouth the same items repeatedly. OCD may worsen with stress or inadequate mental stimulation.

Separation Anxiety

Dogs suffering from separation anxiety tend to engage in destructive behaviors like chewing, digging, urinating, and barking when left alone. They may target dirty underwear because it smells like their human, providing a sense of comfort. But the chewing quickly becomes obsessive.

How to Stop Dogs From Taking Underwear

While natural dog behavior, underwear stealing still needs to be discouraged to prevent ingestion hazards and destruction. Here are some tips to keep dogs out of the dirty laundry.

Use Barriers

Keep the laundry room door closed and hamper inaccessible when not adding clothes. Use baby gates to block access if needed. Keep closets and dresser drawers holding clean underwear shut.

Remove the Scent Reward

Wash underwear separately and use unscented detergent. Don’t leave dirty clothes sitting in hampers. Toss a dryer sheet in the hamper to help mask scents.

Correct and Redirect

Say “No” and trade a toy when catching them with underwear. Offer praise and treats when they take the toy instead. Teach them “Leave it” and “Drop it” commands.

Increase Exercise

Make sure your dog gets adequate walks, play time, and mental enrichment. Adequate exercise and stimulation decreases bored behaviors like underwear theft.

Rule Out Health Issues

If chewing seems obsessive, take your dog to the vet to address any potential dental problems, OCD, nutritional deficiencies or other conditions.

Use Bitter Sprays

Spray taste deterrents lightly on laundry piles or underwear bands. The bitter flavor helps curb chewing while safe for fabrics.

When to Be Concerned

Most dogs will nibble or take underwear on occasion. But it’s important to redirect and discourage the behavior to prevent health risks. Contact your vet if:

  • Chewing becomes excessive or obsessive
  • The dog ingests large shreds of fabric
  • Signs of blockage like vomiting or constipation occur
  • The dog exhibits other extreme stress behaviors
  • Crate training or confinement does not resolve the issue

Seeking professional help is advised in these situations, as compulsive fabric chewing may require anti-anxiety medication, training modifications, or other intervention. Never punish or scold dogs for this common instinct, but do employ management tools to keep your underwear from becoming a midnight snack.

The Takeaway

Dogs zeroing in on dirty underwear, socks, and other intimate garments is stemmed in natural canine behavior. Scents offer dogs a wealth of information, so clothes holding the smell of a beloved human offers comfort and intrigue. Though healthy canine curiosity, deterrents and training are needed to discourage underwear theft and chewing for safety.