3 Steps to Keep Your Dog’s Paws Off Your Food
Does your dog have a hard time keeping his paws off your food?
Nothing is more disappointing than discovering your turkey-and-cheese sandwich has been gobbled down by Fido. Well, it’s disappointing to you, at least. Whether your dog only steals food when you’re not looking or when you are, it’s important that you don’t reprimand him for the behavior. When your pup steals food, he’s rewarded with a tasty treat and the behavior is reinforced. Usually a reprimand comes too late for your dog to connect the behavior to the punishment so this won’t prevent further counter-surfing. Instead of using punishment, you want to recondition your dog to only eat food when you give it to him.
Teach the Leave-It Cue
When you want your dog to leave something alone, you can use the leave-it cue. Your dog should learn she should only take something if you give her permission to do so. Show your dog you have a treat in your hand and then close your palm. Your dog will most likely begin pawing, sniffing or licking your hand to get to the treat. Do nothing but watch closely for your dog to look away. As soon as your dog looks away, say, “Yes” and give her the treat. Repeat this about 10 times or until your dog visibly moves away from your closed fist when you show it to her.
If your dog is catching on quickly, you can add in the cue, “Leave it.” Repeat the steps above, but this time, when your dog looks away, say, “Leave it” and then reward. Some dogs catch onto this in one session, but your dog may need a few days to learn the behavior reliably.
Practice on the Floor
Next, you want to teach your dog to ignore food dropped on the floor. Kneel down on the ground beside your dog. Drop a piece of food onto the floor, and when your dog lunges for the food, immediately cover it up with your hand. When your dog looks away, looks at you, or stops attempting to get the treat from your hand, say, “Yes.” Pick the treat up off the floor and give her the treat. It’s important rewards always come from you and not from the floor or counter. Repeat this 20 to 40 times or until your dog is reliably waiting for you to give her the treat.
Now you can add in the cue. Follow the steps above, but this time, when you drop the food on the floor, say, “Leave it.” You only want to say the command once, so if you need to remind your dog to ignore the food again, use a sound like “ack, ack.”
Practice in New Places
By now, your dog should understand the leave-it cue and perform the behavior reliably when you drop food on the floor. Next, you want to practice the behavior in every room of your house with a variety of his food, toys and bones. If your dog has a habit of snatching food off the counter or table, practice the behavior by placing a plate of treats on various surfaces.
You can also practice this behavior on your walk around the neighborhood. You goal is for your dog to respond to the cue no matter how delicious the temptation may be. To see an example of training the “Leave-it Cue,” check out this video by trainer Zak George.