You may wonder why dogs like socks and underwear, particularly if you have a young dog. Still, dogs can raid your laundry and wreak havoc with your footwear at any age; it’s extremely common.
Some dogs steal socks and bury them in the yard. Some take them to their bed or crate and snuggle with them. Some dogs may even guard smelly socks. But, of course, the danger is when a dog starts to eat socks.
In fact, socks are the most common item vets need to remove from a dog’s intestines surgically, making it worth investing in a really good chewing deterrent for dogs if your dog eats socks. So what happens to make a dog obsessed with dogs, what are the dangers, and what should we do about it?
Why Do Dogs Like Socks?
The short answer is that dogs love our dirty socks because they are soaked in our sweat and foot odor. This may be gross, but the stronger the scent, the more vital it is to our dogs. Socks contain vital information from our pheromones, and our smell can make our dogs happy and calm.
But let’s take a deeper look because the reasons dogs steal socks are much deeper and more fascinating than what we may imagine.
Dogs Love Socks Because They Contain Our Pheromones
Humans release pheromones through sweat and other bodily fluids, which is a major reason dogs are interested in our dirty socks (and underwear, shoes, or dirty laundry). Dogs have a special organ called the Jacobson’s organ (or the vomeronasal organ) that opens on the roof of their mouths and is designed just for pheromones. As our feet are prone to sweating more than other parts of our body, plenty of pheromones end up in our socks.
In fact, the Jacobson’s organ is one of the reasons that dogs “cob” or nibble on us with their front teeth.
Dogs use this organ as a separate olfactory system from their nose, with different nerves that go directly to the brain. This organ is so sensitive it can pick up undetectable scents. Of course, dogs use it for mating, but newborn puppies will also use it to identify their mothers.
By placing our used socks in their mouths near this organ, dogs are zoning in on our pheromones and can collect more information on us. Pheromones can communicate age, health, and emotional states, among dogs. By grabbing a sock, a dog can collect a whole bunch of chemical data on us.
Your Scent On Your Socks Makes Your Dog Happier And Calmer
For a dog obsessed with socks, remember it isn’t about the sock itself; it’s about your smell. When dogs are attached to you, anything with your smell triggers oxytocin, other feel-good hormones, and neurotransmitters in their brain.
Your smell makes them happy and calms them down. This is why so many dogs will choose to take your socks to their bed and snuggle with them. Some may even growl if you try to take a sock away.
This is especially true if the owner is gone and a dog has separation anxiety. One study shows that dogs able to smell their owners are calmer in situations that cause them anxiety.
Your Scent Makes Socks A High-Value Item
The fact that your smell makes a dog feel happier, can mean that whatever has your smell is suddenly a “high-value” item. To some dogs, this means taking socks and other clothing items that smell of their owners and guarding them or snuggling with them.
For many young dogs, it can compel them to destroy things that smell like you. They may chew on things you touch, especially when they are puppies. They do this because anything that smells like you must be important, but they are also going through a phase when they learn about the world by…well…chewing on it.
This fascination with things that smell like you is two-fold. One is that it can be a form of resource-guarding. If your dog sees you as a resource they don’t want to share, they may become possessive over the things that smell like you.
Secondly, if it smells like you, it must be important because you’re important. So it becomes what we call a “high-value” item. These are usually things like favorite toys, a bed, or food, but can be something that smells strongly of their favorite person. What dogs do with high-value items depends on the dog. They are just as likely to bury it as to eat it.
Dogs Get Attention From Stealing Socks
Finally, while your scent may be why dogs become interested in socks at first, it is often the attention that makes them obsessed. This is most common with puppies in their adolescence, who are looking for mental stimulation and desperately want you to play with them.
Say, one day, you catch your young dog sneaking a sock out of a laundry basket, and you shout or chase after them to get the sock before they eat it. The act of having you chasing them immediately introduces a new game to the puppy.
It’s a lightbulb moment for them. If they grab the right item, they can have at least a few minutes of great fun while you make funny noises and chase after them. This “new game” is what sometimes creates a serial sock thief.
Certain dog breeds like high-energy working dogs (think German Shepherds and Border Collies) or scent-hounds like Beagles may be more prone to sock stealing, but this behavior occurs in nearly every breed.
Are Socks Bad For Dogs? The Dangers of Dogs Eating Socks
Sadly, losing a sock because your dog ate it is more than inconvenient. It is extremely dangerous, and possibly deadly. Socks are the number one item that vets need to remove from dogs’ intestines in surgery, followed by underwear and pantyhose.
Removing socks from your dog’s intestines may cost between $800 and $3500, depending on the type of surgery. So remember to invest in pet insurance and see our steps below to stop your dog from eating socks at all costs.
Swallowing a sock is a choking hazard. However, if it passes through the trachea and stomach and reaches the intestines, it can cause a deadly blockage. It can also damage the intestines enough to be fatal.
What To Do If Your Dog Ate A Sock
If your dog ate a sock, don’t panic. In many cases, your dog will vomit the sock out, usually somewhere after midnight. Keep your dog under close observation and make sure they sleep next to you.
You should wake up to the familiar retching sound. It’s vital that you are awake to watch this, as the sock can get stuck in your dog’s throat on the way out, and you need to be ready to remove it.
If your dog does not vomit the sock out, you need to monitor them for 24 hours to see if they pass it. If they do not, you will need to go to a vet for an X-ray, as your dog may need surgery to remove the sock.
What To Do When Your Dog Is Obsessed With Socks?
Luckily, there are many ways to stop a dog from stealing socks. Let’s go over a few basics.
- The first cure for sock eating and stealing is prevention and blocking your dog’s access to laundry. Ensure military-style diligence in your home so no socks are left on the floor and that all dirty socks go straight in the laundry basket.
- Place your laundry basket on a high shelf or surface that your dog can’t reach, and preferably close the door to the room you keep laundry. You can also use baby gates to block your dog from some regions of the house that may have socks lying around (especially if you have children) and crate your dog if leaving the house for a few hours.
- Take a moment to spray socks with bitter anti-chew spray as an extra precaution or to teach your dogs that socks taste bad. It can be too much to spray each dirty sock you wear individually, so occasionally spritz a no-chew spray over your laundry basket to keep your dog away from it.
- Don’t make a fuss if you see your dog with a fuss. Quickly grab a treat or a toy and “trade” them for the sock. Ensure your young dog has plenty of appropriate rawhides and other chews to chew on so that socks are less tempting. You also want chew toys nearby at all times to redirect your dog to an appropriate item to chew on.
- Ensure your dog gets plenty of attention and playtime. Use obedience training to stimulate their minds, and never neglect exercise. If they have lots of established playtime, they’re less likely to try to invent ways to get your attention, such as raiding the laundry.
- If your dog is anxious and likes to snuggle with your socks, or is protecting them, then swap out for something safer with your scent. If they aren’t chewing on the socks, give them a large old gym towel with your sweat on it to sleep with instead. You can even rub your feet off on their bed after a run. It may seem a bit gross to you, but it makes their sleeping spot smell strongly of you and help their anxiety.
Dogs eat and steal our socks because they are the clothing item most drenched in our smell. This means they are also covered with our pheromones. This way, dogs collect data on us from our socks and feel better by inhaling our scent.
Sadly, a furry friend is always at risk of swallowing a sock, which can be deadly. Take steps to keep your laundry out of their reach and find safer ways for your dog to feel closer to you.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.