Suppertime is typically a favorite time of day in most households. The busyness of the work and school day is long behind us, and we’re ready to enjoy a delicious meal and some catching up with the family. But in homes with dogs, people aren’t the only ones who look forward to dinner at the table. Many dogs have turned begging for treats into an art form, mastering the puppy dog eyes and gentle paw nudges to your legs and arms as you try to enjoy your meal. If you’ve missed the boat when it comes to preventing this behavior, is there hope that you can teach your dog to stop begging at the table?
Why do dogs beg at the table?
The answer to this question is seemingly quite simple—you have something your dog wants! While this may be the root motivating factor behind the action, the truth is your dog begs at the table because it has worked for him in the past. Dogs are highly intelligent creatures that are powerfully motivated by our responses to things. If your dog has turned on the puppy dog charm before, and you’ve given in to his adorableness, your dog marked it down on his canine score card as Fido=1, Owner=0.
It takes very little for a dog to learn which behaviors lead to the desired response. Once they have established their pattern, they will trot out the winning formula every chance they get even if the results are less than predictable from time to time. In this way, our dogs train us.
Does this mean there is no hope to change the behavior? Not at all. You can teach your dog that begging at the table will not be tolerated, but it will take consistency, determination, and an entirely new approach to the problem.
What is the best approach to take?
If you’d like your dog’s begging at the table to become a thing of the past, there are a number of things that you can try. Of course, prevention is the #1 choice when it comes to potential nuisance behaviors, but if that ship has sailed, don’t despair! Armed with some perseverance, you can definitely teach your dog better table manners.
Here are some options for teaching Fido to cool it at the table:
- Restrict your dog’s access to the table during mealtimes.
Once a behavior is firmly established, it can be difficult to break it. But one of the simplest solutions is to simply avoid the problem altogether. If your dog’s begging for food at the table as got you down, the easiest thing to do is to not allow him access to the area of the house where you eat.
This can be accomplished several different ways. If Fido likes to be with his family and you are equally amenable to his presence, you could tether him to a piece of furniture which is sufficiently removed from the area or move his crate into the dining room. This allows Fido to be near the people he loves but removes any access to the potential for food. The hope, of course, is that the knowledge that food is not a possibility will eliminate begging altogether. However, for some dogs, it just amps up the begging further with puppy dog eyes and paw swipes being replaced with persistent whining which leaves you longing for Fido’s former begging habits.
If your doggo falls into this category, removing him from your dining area altogether might be the most effective strategy. Whether Fido goes out in the yard for play time and a run or into his crate in another area of the house with a toy or bone to chew on, restricting his access to the spot where the family eats will naturally reduce the temptation to beg.
For this strategy to work best, it is important to provide Fido with a tasty treat or fun toy of his own to look forward to. He will soon associate meal times with play/snack times of his own, thus increasing his excitement level about what he gets to do and changing his focus from what the family is doing at the dinner table. Over time, you may even be able to continue to offer the snack or toy during meal times but this time Fido can enjoy his treat on a dog bed placed near his people in the dining room.
- Teach an alternate behavior.
If you prefer to keep your dog in your dining room with the family while you eat, you can work on teaching him an alternate behavior. The best means to accomplish this is by placing a dog bed near enough to the table that Fido can still see you, but far enough away that he will not be a constant nuisance as you are eating. You will then want to teach him the command “Go to your bed” or “In your place.”
When you begin training these new behaviors, it will be important to start in a room other than the dining room and to gradually move in there once your dog has shown a solid understanding of the desired behavior. Testing your dog under distractions such as when food is on the table or there is a lot of activity in the room will help you understand how well your dog has mastered his new skills. When your dog has mastered “Go to your bed,” you will then begin working on the “Stay” command, an integral component of this training technique.
When the behavior is firmly a part of your dog’s trick vocabulary, you can then simply tell him to go to his bed at the beginning of your meal. If your dog breaks position, you simply repeat the command and expect your dog to comply. If you find your dog is ignoring your commands or feigning ignorance, it is best to remove him from the room entirely and try again another day. Any deviation from what is expected of him will be seen as a victory by your dog, and as a result, you will see old behaviors sneaking back in, leaving you back at square one.
- Ignore pleas for your food.
No matter how persistent, you must ignore, ignore, IGNORE your dog’s attempts to get you to give in. Dogs are master manipulators, and if you give in even once, you can expect your dog to take that ground back as his own and to attempt to push you even further until he is right back at the table receiving regular handouts.
- Stay strong and be consistent.
Consistency is king when it comes to training. You must not waiver. At times, it will be very difficult as our dogs tend to know our weak spots and prey on them to get what they want. To win the battle of better canine manners, you must be stronger-willed than your dog, and that’s no easy feat!
Fido’s dinnertime manners got you feeling blue? Don’t despair; you’re not alone. With a little determination and a good training plan in place, you can teach Fido that mealtimes can be just a fun when viewed from his dog bed.