You know the look—those puppy dog eyes staring up at you longingly as you eat your dinner, silently begging and pleading with you to drop something off your plate. And chances are, you've probably 'accidentally' let a few scraps from your meals fall on the floor.
As with many behavioral issues, pet parents can be part of the problem! But even if you've never reinforced this habit, your pup might still beg: “Food is the monetary system of animals and sometimes we forget that dogs are animals," says Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, a dog behavior specialist and founder of USA Dog Behavior. "Even though they’re domesticated they’re still food motivated."
While this can be a helpful training tool, it can present problems: when your pup knows they have a chance of getting food, they’re going to wait for it. “It’s called random reinforcement, so even if you feed your dog food from the table once every two weeks, the dog looks at the time they have to wait as the price they have to pay for the treat,” Sheaffer explains. “It’s like people that love to play slot machines, they’ll sit at the machine for weeks for that big win.”
Thankfully, the behavior is one of the easier ones to correct…in theory. The best way to stop your dog from begging is to stop giving them food! “If you consistently don’t feed your dog from the table, the behavior should extinguish itself in about two months,” says Sheaffer. The problem is that guests or kids make this much harder. If one person feeds the dog from the table you’ve set yourself back weeks in the process. Here are a few other ways to nip the begging in the bud:
Keep them contained
If you’ve crate trained your dog properly it won’t be a punishment, and will ensure they don't get any table scraps. “This might be your best bet if you have small kids,” says Sheaffer. “The dog won’t be able to stop themselves if there are little bits of food falling from the high chair.”
Teach them "place"
You can teach your pup the place command, where they learn to go and stay in a certain place until you say it’s "OK" to move. It will take more time and work, but long term it can keep your dog out of the dining room.
Coordinate your mealtimes
You can also feed your dog their dinner before you sit down to eat. “There’s this myth that exists that you should eat first. But that isn’t a thing. You can eat at the same time—your dog doesn’t care. They’re just thinking about food,” says Sheaffer.
Put scraps in their place
Your dog needs to learn to respect that your plate is your plate, and their bowl is their bowl. “If you do want to feed your dog safe table scraps, put them in the dog’s bowl and feed them where you normally would,” Sheaffer says.
Give them space
Don’t bother your dog while they’re eating, don’t reach into the bowl. “Humans get to determine where, when, how much, and what food the dog gets. If you have multiple dogs, space them out while they’re eating so they don’t resource guard their bowls. Staying in the room also helps calm them and offer a little bit of supervision,” says Sheaffer.
Ultimately, not feeding your dog from the table is about respect. With a little bit of tough love, mealtimes will be happier for everyone.