When was the last time you enjoyed a meal at home without a pair of pleading eyes staring at you? Most dogs love food, but if your dog has a begging habit, it might be time to make some changes.
The first thing to ask yourself: Are you part of the problem? Do you set a double standard by feeding your dog from the table and then getting annoyed when she begs for food? As long as you continue to feed from the table, however infrequently, your dog will keep begging.
If your dog jumps all over you or dives for the bowl during feeding time, teaching a “wait” cue can make a huge difference. This cue teaches your dog to exercise impulse control around a food source only when you are present, because true self-control will only happen when your dog can regulate her own behavior around food without your instruction or intervention.
Teach the wait cue
1. Take your dog’s empty food bowl, and ask her to “wait.”
2. Move the food bowl toward the floor a few inches. If your dog stays in place, keep lowering the bowl until you can place it on the ground.
3. If she tries to jump up, grab the bowl and simply say, “Oops!” and bring the bowl back up again.
4. Practice lowering the bowl a few inches at a time, and praise her as she waits patiently. Move in small increments so that you set her up for success.
Eventually, you should be able to place the bowl on the floor while your dog waits until you tell her it’s OK to eat.
Teach the back-up cue
You can also teach your dog a new routine during mealtimes. Begin by teaching her to stay behind an “invisible line.” This technique is much easier if you have already taught your dog a “back-up” cue. Here’s how you do it:
1. Stand in front of your dog with your legs slightly apart. Place a piece of food on the ground in between your legs, and encourage your dog to move toward you and eat the food.
2. Once your dog has eaten the food, she will naturally take a few steps back to look at you again. When she does, use a marker word such as “yes,” and give her a piece of food from your hand.
3. Repeat the sequence, marking and rewarding her for backing up.
4. When your dog is fluent with the behavior at this stage, start using the cue “back up” as she is walking backward.
5. After successful repetitions, delay the food reward from your hand until your dog backs up a bit further.
Once she understands what the back-up cue means, she’s ready to learn how to stay behind the line.
Teach stay behind the line
1. Pick a spot away from the table, and draw an invisible line that you don’t want your dog to cross until you have finished eating.
2. Ask her to “back up” and then “stay” behind the line, and go back to the table and sit down.
3. If your dog starts to walk toward the table, ask her to back up to beyond the invisible line again.
4. At no point should you yell at your dog or physically move her in any way.
5. Sit back down and pretend to eat while quietly praising her for staying behind the line. If she moves over the line again, gently block her with your body and encourage her to go behind the line again with the “back up” cue.
6. When your dog is consistently staying behind the line, you can bring out some food for yourself and start eating. Try cold food first and gradually work up to the warm smelly stuff that is more tempting and harder for your dog to resist.
If you have more than one dog, teach this technique to each dog separately before putting them together.
Manage the issue
What happens if your dog is just too tempted by the food on the table and finds it hard to stay behind the line? Management is a great option. Put your dog in a crate, behind a baby gate or in a different room with an interactive toy she can enjoy chewing while you are eating.
Dog Still Begging for Food
If your dog continues to struggle with impulse control around food or in any other situation, it might be because she needs other outlets to fill up her day. Dogs will become ultra-focused on something because they have nothing else to occupy their time. Eating becomes the only activity that breaks up the monotony of the day, and for dogs who are always hungry, the anticipation and consumption of food is what drives them.
1. Up the physical exercise.
2. Provide more mental stimulation through added training or food toys.
3. Give three meals a day instead of two.
4. Or, feed their meals via activity toys that challenge them, rather than having food provided directly
from a bowl.
Understanding why dogs beg and using training and management techniques to set your dog up for success will extinguish what can be an annoying and intrusive behavior.