Feeding your begging dog scraps from your plate not only reinforces bad behaviour, it can also have long-term health implications.
You sit down at the dinner table, pick up your cutlery and look around to see a few non-human eyes trained firmly on your plate – there might be drool, the occasional nudge, perhaps even barking. Dogs begging for food, for your food, is a scenario many pet owners are familiar with.
“When they look at you with those big eyes… it’s hard to say no,” says veterinarian Dr Trish Santos-Smith. “Dogs always want food – they’re motivated by it. After all, that’s how you train them, giving treats as rewards.
“You only need to give them scraps from your plate once or twice, then they come to expect it every time you sit down to a meal. You’re giving them positive reinforcement – telling them their begging behaviour is acceptable.
“This attention-seeking mechanism is not only frustrating over time, but it’s also potentially bad for your pet’s health,” says Santos-Smith.
“Feeding them your scraps, which may be high in calories, could contribute to doggy weight gain or even obesity,” and all the potential health issues associated with that. “Plus, there may be foods on your plate that your furry friend should not eat at all; things that might make them ill.”
How do you break the habit and stop mealtime begging? Separate them from the table.
The easiest way to do this is use a physical barrier, like baby gates. Santos-Smith also suggests taking your pooch to another room while you’re eating.
“Try feeding your dog their meal at the same time you eat,” she says. “But give it to them in an isolated location, like a separate room, away from the dinner table.” This way they’re distracted, but still feel like they’re being given love and attention.
If you don’t feel comfortable removing your dog from the room, there are alternatives. “Have a cosy area that’s set up especially for your dog, away from the table but where they can still see you. Provide plenty of distractions, like toys or a kong filled with something tasty,” she says.
Train your dog to stay away from the table
Santos-Smith says the best way to train your dog to stay away from the dinner table is not to punish them, but rather offer rewards.
“If your dog is acting in a manner you don’t want, ignore that behaviour. Giving attention of any kind – even if it’s negative attention – might actually convince them to keep begging.
“Reinforce the behaviour you do want, rather than punishing them for being ‘bad’. This way they make the association between not begging and being rewarded.”
Train your dog to be obedient
‘Stay’, ‘leave it’, ‘go to your spot’, ‘stop’, ‘sit’ – ensuring your dog has basic levels of obedience goes a long way when it comes to ending unwanted begging behaviours. Training often works best during and after exercise, when your pooch is tired and is less likely to be distracted by other stimulus, focusing on your commands instead.
“Be patient,” says Santos-Smith. “You may have been giving in to your pooch for years – it can take time and effort for them to learn to change.”
This information was brought to you by the experts at PAW by Blackmores.
Don't forget to reward your pup with some extra special treats for their good behaviour!