Untraining Bad Habits: Keeping Your Dog From Begging at the Table

September 30th, 2015

Did you know begging is a learned behavior in pets? As in the more you feed them, the more they beg?

Given that their determined and adorable countenance can be extremely irresistible whenever they see food in your hands or on your plate, it can be hard to not share food with your pets. However, there is some good news- certain foods are pet safe, and if you find your pet's behavior less than pleasing, you can train them to stop begging.

As it's now holiday season and guests will be arriving soon, here are some tips on feeding your pets as well as laying down the law:

* Turkey and other lean meats get the okay, possibly making your carving job a little easier by getting your dog out from under your feet. However, not just any piece of meat will do, make sure you toss them lean pieces instead of fatty.

* Cranberries and cranberry sauce, along with most vegetables, also get the go ahead.

* There are some things on the "no" list, like foods heavy in fat. Here's a helpful list of people food to avoid feeding your pets.

In the October/November 2015 issue of Dogster, dog trainer Victoria Stillwell recommends the "invisible line" tactic to train your dogs not to beg, which includes the following tips: 

1. Begin this process at an empty table at first, working up to an entire meal. (She adds that this process is easier if your dog already knows how to "stay." For advice on training dogs, we recommend Dr. Sophia Yin's How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves.)

2. Choose a location a short distance from the table, mentally picking a line you don't want your dog to cross during mealtimes.

3. Lead the dog to place behind the invisible line you've chosen, then ask them to stay.

4. Walk back over to the table and sit down.

5. If the dog gets up and starts to come towards the table, stand up and block them from reaching the table, pushing them back to the invisible line you've chosen. During this process, it's important to truly use your body to block your dog, instead of raising your voice or physically placing them behind the line with your hands. 

6. Once the dog is behind the line, go back to the table and sit down. Praise the dog for keeping behind the line. If the dog moves past the line, repeat #5.

7. After the dog repeatedly stays behind the line as commanded, bring some food to the table (she notes that cold food works better at first, as opposed to aroma-inducing hot food) and begin to eat.

8. Once you have finished eating, release the dog from the position.

Additional tips: Consistency is key in this process, which when repeated, should teach your dog not to cross an invisible line of your choice. If you have several dogs, teach them separately until they both learn the new routine.

If you find these training steps not working for your dog, crating them or keeping them outside the room is also an option; however, be sure to give them a special toy (she recommends a bone or a toy stuffed with treats or peanut butter) so that mealtime means treat time instead of a separation period. In order to make training easier, she recommends ensuring your dog gets regular exercise to get rid of any extra energy.