By Dr. Parker T. Barker
Believe me when I say, nobody likes food more than I do. But we have rules in my house that prevents me from begging at the table. Yet many houses aren’t like my house. I hear lots of chatter at the dog park about how easy it is to get some dog owners to give in to a big eyed hopeful stare, a little whimper, or a paw on the knee during dinner.
Some families don’t allow their pups to beg at the table and other families seem to accept it, encourage it or just believe it to be a behavior that they can’t change. Guess which of these things is wrong? First, begging is a learned behavior for the dog. Just like learning to sit or to come when called. Somebody in your household had to have shown the dog that by exhibiting those cute faces shining up right below the table was a successful way to score food.
Some dog owners actually encourage begging because they think it’s cute. It is not cute. It can lead to all kinds of problems for your pup like digestive issues and obesity. Table scraps are not appropriate food for dogs and giving your dog extra food does not show you love them -just the opposite. It shows you don’t care enough about them to protect them from problems that arise from eating too much or the wrong things.
Additionally, and you have heard it from me before, if you are the ”alpha dog” in your house or the pack leader as Cesar says, you would never, ever let a subordinate dog eat before you or with you. They have to wait their turn. If you ignore this theory, you jeopardize your position in the eyes of your dog. I know it sounds silly but dogs really are pack animals and all packs have a hierarchy. If you aren’t the “top dog” why should they obey you at all? Therein lies the rub – how is a dog to know when they should obey you and when it is ok to break the rules of dogdom if you vacillate on things like begging?
Is it hard to train a dog that has been begging for years how not to beg? In a word, yes. But it can be done. First, feed your dog before you sit down to dinner so he isn’t hungry. Then put them in a “stay” somewhere where they can’t make eye contact with you but can see you. You will need to put him back in his “stay” as many times as necessary until he gets the message that this “stay” means just that, “stay.” Give him his favorite toy so he has something to distract him as the roast beef gets passed around.
If he is successful in maintaining a stay all during dinner, you can reward him with a dog treat.
The key to success in this endeavor is to make sure you are consistent – no slip-ups. If you stick to the routine for five days and then at Saturday dinner with the neighbors, let him beg for food, you have to start all over and all you have basically done is confuse him. You have to decide if this is something you want to do and then the whole family has to agree to follow your rules.
In my house, Mom has a signal when I have to get out of the kitchen when she is cooking. I am usually underfoot hoping something might drop on the floor, but when I get that signal, I scamper right to the door of the kitchen and sit down. My sister and I are never allowed in the dining room when the family is eating. Peanut doesn’t care about food (I am still trying to understand this) and she goes to the sofa or her bed and just snoozes and I sit just outside the dining room and watch. And usually I get a bite of something yummy when everybody has finished.
There are two secrets to really giving your dog a new behavior like “no begging.” First, everybody has to be on the same page. Your wonderful children can’t still sneak ol’ Fido the broccoli under the able and claim they ate all their veggies. And secondly, you have to be consistent. Your pup needs to learn where he is allowed to go during dinner and, at least until it becomes routine, he should be rewarded for it. Good luck.