You’re in charge of hosting this year’s holiday festivities, and the first order of business is planning your star-studded menu. While mapping out the starters, entrees and desserts, you’ll want to think about how to prevent your dog from begging at your guest’s feet, too.
You can’t fault your pup for wanting a bite of your delicious spread, but sometimes the behavior can distract you and your guests. That’s why we turned to Fetch's on-staff celebrity dog trainer Michael Hill of Michael Hill Dog Training for tips on stopping dogs from begging for food.
Begging cues can vary from very subtle, like quietly staring at the food, to much more intrusive, like jumping up on the table to help themselves.
For many dogs, food is one of the highlights of their existence. Couple that with their favorite human enjoying the food, making mealtime a very tantalizing experience.
Puppies that have been fed directly by their human often throughout development are more likely to express interest in food as opposed to a rescue dog that might be shyer around mealtime. Appetite and food interests can be related to both nature and nurture.
Usually, it starts as a natural impulse like interest in the food, which is something we actually encourage for most training modalities. Then it becomes reinforced with any attention or actual food rewards it achieves.
This is subjective. If the begging behavior isn’t bothersome, like laying on their bed watching the meal carefully, an indulgent gift afterward isn’t problematic. However, if the begging behavior is enough to be noticeable, then any food given will only increase the occurrence of the begging.
First are physical barriers, like crates, pens or a leash tethered to an object, that can limit a dog’s access too close to the food of interest, thereby making the difficulty level more manageable for them.
Prevention from receiving food rewards is key if you want less begging. Whenever the behavior becomes inappropriate, an immediate removal period, like a time-out, to another part of the home will usually impart clearer boundaries to a dog than repeating “no.”
Rewarding an alternate behavior, like sitting calmly on their bed, with food rewards can turn begging into an opportunity to develop impulse control. Instead, we use the food motivation to our advantage to reward the dog for using their self-restraint to stay calm on their bed, knowing rewards are on the way rather than getting food and attention from begging in a bothersome manner.
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Reinforce the unwanted behavior with food or attention.
Begging can occur when they want any resource, like toys or attention. If your dog is jealous that you’re being affectionate with a significant other or bored and want to play, they will utilize behaviors that achieve their desired response, which can be jumping up, barking or staring.
This is a great question, begging isn’t necessarily bad. We should understand that many desirable outcomes are going to be achieved through the very same concept as begging because the dog offers a behavior to get a desired response.
The key nuance is being aware of what behaviors and states of mind we are reinforcing and paying attention to ways we might not be aware that we are reinforcing behaviors.
If it’s undesirable, we usually label it as begging, and we want to try to remove rewards from that scenario. But when appropriate behaviors are offered, we should absolutely indulge and reward our dogs for making the right choice.
The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.
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A pug licking their lips over a sandwich