5 Suggestions to Stop Begging

Begging is a common behavior that many dog owners inadvertently teach their dogs.

One treat from the plate won’t hurt anything, right? Unfortunately, one tidbit from the table leads to two and three. Pretty soon your dog is actively begging every time anyone in the house sits down to eat.

This behavior is unacceptable for many reasons. Not only can it lead to weight gain, but it can also lead to other bad behaviors. The dog’s wide eyes and tilted head that asks someone for a tidbit could turn into whining and barking when food isn’t immediately forthcoming. The dog may poke his nose under a hand with food, or paw (and then scratch) the leg of the person who is eating. Some dogs who feel entitled will begin stealing food from the table and kitchen counters, and raiding the kitchen trash can. Dogs repeat actions that are rewarding to them and begging (and potentially stealing) food is the most rewarding behavior of all.

Ideally, the easiest way to avoid sharing your home with a begging dog is to not allow it to occur in the first place. However, if your dog is already begging, here are some suggestions to help you stop it.

No More Food From the Table

The first step in changing this behavior is to stop feeding the dog from the table or any other place where people eat. If people eat in the kitchen, in front of the TV or a desk, the rules need to be the same: no begging anywhere.

Think about when or where your dog normally gets food or treats. Obviously, he can be fed from his bowl at mealtimes. How about some food dispensing toys? Those are great fun and can keep your dog from getting bored when you’re busy so he should be allowed to have some food in those also. Most obedience and trick training use treats as motivators and rewards so those are fine too. None of these situations should affect your training to stop begging behavior; just make sure none of these acceptable behaviors occur where people normally eat.

©istockphoto/igorr1

©istockphoto/igorr1

Crate Your Dog in the Beginning

When you first begin making changes, your dog is going to be unhappy and could escalate his begging behavior. He may move from person to person, jumping up on them, pawing at legs or arms, all while whining and barking. After all, he has no idea why the rules have changed.

To make the first steps in the change easier for him, put your dog in his crate before each meal. If he’s not crate trained, put him in another room and close the door or put him outside. This will make it easier to institute a change as he’ll be removed from the eating area. In addition,  the people involved will not be feeding him since he’s not begging. People need time to change their own behaviors too.

If your dog has just begun to beg, maybe for a few months, you may need to crate him during meals for a few weeks. However, if he’s been begging for a few years, you may need to crate him for a few months.

Practice the Down Stay

During the next few weeks or months while your dog is no longer begging, begin practicing your dog’s down stay skills. For example, while you’re reading, ask your dog to lie down and stay at your feet. If his skills are rusty, have a leash on him and help him do it correctly. Keep the down stay short so he can be rewarded for doing it and never ask him to hold it for a longer period than he’s ready to do. Gradually increase the time he can stay until it’s slightly longer than the length of a typical meal. This might take several weeks so don’t be impatient.

Once your dog can do the down stay close to you, then begin teaching him to do it on a dog bed. Begin with the dog bed on the floor at your feet while you’re sitting down, and then as your dog’s stays get better, move the bed to the spot where you want your dog to remain while the family is eating. Ideally this should be within sight of the table but far enough away to prevent begging.

If you’re having trouble teaching the down stay, or increasing the time of the stay, you might want to contact a local dog trainer. She can help you teach your dog more effectively, or if your dog has already had some training, the trainer can help you refresh your skills as well as those of your dog.

©istockphoto/LifesizeImages

©istockphoto/LifesizeImages

Bring Him Back Out at Mealtime

After your dog’s down stays are good and he’s learned to do the stay in his bed, and after he’s been crated during meals for a while, then bring him out on leash and ask him to stay in his spot. Get a snack like an apple and sit at the table to eat. If your dog leaves the down stay in his bed, then use the leash and bring him back to his bed. Tell him to lie down and stay again. If he gets up again, simply walk him to his crate, invite him in and walk away from him. The crate is not being used as a punishment, but instead, a time out that takes him away from the distraction: your food.

When he’s able to remain in his bed while you eat a snack, then ask him to remain in his bed during a meal. Handle it the same way as you did with a snack.

If your dog has been begging for years, don’t be surprised if he reverts back to bad behaviors in the beginning. It’s hard to change established habits. Just be clear with your communications; he’s to remain in his bed or he goes to his crate.

Don’t yell at your dog if he makes a mistake. Don’t punish him in any other manner, either, as your anger or punishments won’t teach him anything except perhaps to be worried about you.

Everyone Needs to be in Agreement

When you decide to change this behavior, everyone in the family needs to adhere to the new policy. No one is to slip him a piece of food from their plate and no one is to accidentally drop a piece of food. If everyone in the household is not in accord, then it’s time for a discussion so everyone understands why it’s important.

If one or two people ignore the new rules, then the dog will continue to beg. Think of a slot machine; if someone puts in money and pushes the button, they won’t win every time. But if the machine pays some winnings every once in a while, even small winnings, the player will continue to push that button. This is called random reinforcements and these tend to make a behavior stronger rather than weaker. A dog fed randomly from the table will try even harder to get something because the harder he tries, the sweeter the prize.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

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