Yes, another piece from Northern Virginia Today I expanded for here.
“My dog won’t stop begging,” is a common owner complaint. You are eating or cooking, Sparky comes over to investigate what you are doing. This is normal. My dogs do it all the time. However, my dogs are not rude beggars. Why? What did you do to stop these behaviors? The answer is not “why my dogs are not rude beggars” but WHAT I did to get better behaviors. What you do when Sparky comes to check out that great smell determines what Sparky will do next. Will he become a rude beggar or a patient waiter?
Dogs do what works for them. While you are eating, Sparky approaches and poked you. You toss Sparky food thinking he will go away. Sparky starts these behaviors again. Once again, you give him something to make him go away. In reality you have reinforced these begging behaviors. You showed Sparky what he was doing gets him what he wants. Sparky comes up, he pokes you, you feed him. If you do not feed him, Sparky tries harder. The behaviors worked before so he will try them again and again. He is not being rude; he is simply giving the behaviors you have reinforced. Now what? Do you yell at him? Hmmm, this negatively affects our relationship with our dogs. I do not want my dog to fear approaching me for anything. Do you give him more hoping he will go away once satisfied? Every time you do this you are teaching Sparky these behaviors will work to get him food. You have taught Sparky to become a rude beggar.
I feed my dogs from my plates or from the counter as I am cooking. YES! I DO. Feeding your dog from your plate does NOT create a rude, begging dog. Tossing your dog food from the counter as you cook will NOT create a dog who counter surfs. Dogs will counter surf even if we do not feed them from the counter. Dogs smell stuff and they will investigate it if they can get to it. They are dogs. So what is the trick to getting a dog that does not beg while you are eating or cooking? Here is the trick – it is not a trick really – decide what you want from your dog and train for it.
I want a dog who waits politely. This is what I work towards. Give your dog a mat and teach him to remain there while you eat or cook. While he is remaining there, toss him things. This reinforces “If I stay here, I will get food!” If you toss your dog food while he is doing something you do not like (rude begging) that is what he will continue to do. Again, decide what you want and train for it. Now, you have done this and the behaviors keep falling apart. What could be happening?
It is easy for the desired behaviors to be undermined. Great Aunt Edna comes for a visit. You have explained the rules for when humans eat and how Sparky can only get things when he is in his place. Since Edna is a newer person, Sparky may not give the behaviors to her that he does you. If Edna gives Sparky a snack from her plate while he is not giving desired behaviors, your work has been compromised. This is where management and showing visitors what needs to be done to keep your training going. Assuming you can retrain the dog after is not fair. It is confusing to the dog. If you are worried visitors will not respect your work, keep Sparky away while they are eating.
For those who cringe at giving dogs “people food,” many are safe for dogs. It is easier to make a list of things to avoid than it is to list all the people food dogs can have. Avoid: chocolate, anything in the onion and garlic family, avocado, caffeinated things, macadamia nuts, citrus (the peels, leaves and stems contain oils), coconut and coconut oil in large amounts, grapes and raisins, anything with Xylitol, and a few other foods. Also, make sure meat is lean and no bones from your plate. An internet search will provide good lists of foods to avoid and foods that are safe.
Begging need not be a problem if you are willing to decide what behaviors you want from your dog and train for them.
Karen Peak is the owner of West Wind Dog Training in Northern Virginia and The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project.