To eliminate stealing, whether it is overt (taking food from children) or covert (pilfering the thawing dinner steak), it is necessary to initiate a program of at least 4 weeks, during which no food is ever placed within the pup’s reach. It goes without saying that no tidbits should be given during this period.
Remedies that often fail include lacing some food with pepper or ammonia, saying “No-no” while tempting the pup, and physically punishing the animal when it approaches the family’s food. These fail because they require the presence of some agent other than the food, either the aversive-tasting element or the owner. When these elements are not present, the pup is rarely discouraged from stealing the food. It learns to discriminate between treated and untreated morsels, and to avoid food in the owner’s presence.
Begging food from the dinner table is one of the easiest things to teach a dog, and also one of the hardest habits to break. Your pet’s training to beg begins when he is a young, adorable puppy. It does not take too many repetitions before he learns that he gets fed from the table by begging. Then he sits by your chair while you are eating and stares at you. Occasionally he’ll get up on his hind legs and paw you, or he’ll nudge your arm and remind you that he is waiting. And he drools, that’s the worst part. He looks as though you never feed him.
If you don’t have this problem, prevention is quite simple. Don’t start giving your dog food from the table. If you must give your dog table scraps, give them in moderation and in his own dish after you have finished eating or, better yet, with his regular meal. Once you have a dog that begs, it becomes a self-perpetuating problem. Begging is rewarded with food.
Chances are, if you have this problem, you’ve tried to stop his begging, you’ve yelled at him when he begs, pushed him away, and even gotten really angry, but he just gets more persistent. So you’ve had to give him something to be able to eat in peace. What you have done is to reward his persistence. Each time you have tried holding out longer, but have ultimately given in, you have further trained him that no matter how far away the rainbow looks, there is a pot of gold at the end if he simply waits.
When you are tired of this behaviour and want to end it, when you get to the point that you can’t stand the drooling, the whining, the pawing and the sad eyes staring at you, then you have to steel yourself for the cure. Using the positive approach, give him the command “Down” and have him do a long “Down” by your chair during dinner. Be prepared for many interruptions initially, while you reinforce his “Down.” Each time he gets up, repeat the command and replace it if necessary so that he remains down during your dinner.
With a truly persistent begger, your first week of dinners may be quite a trial. Some dogs bark repeatedly and go through all manner of random actions to try to get you to feed them from the table. But once you have begun the training, stick with it. If you give in at any time, no matter how small the tidbit you sneak him, not only have you lost that battle, you may very well have lost the entire war. If you have made up your mind that you don’t want begging, then it’s just a matter of time before you have your dog resigned to the fact that the party is over, at least at the dinner table.
When your dog is steady enough to do the long “Down” away from your side during dinner, then establish his place where he stays while you eat. He should be put in his place every evening while you are eating, and praised when you release him at the end of the meal. It won’t be too long before you will be eating dinner in the company of a well-trained, well- behaved dog lying quietly in the corner.
This article is extracted from K9 Magazine’s ‘How To Stop Dog Begging’ – read in full here.