There probably isn’t a dog on the planet that doesn’t beg for a titbit or two from time to time. But dogs that persistently beg for food or steal it when no one is looking aren’t merely being greedy – they may have something to tell you.
Picture this: You sit down at the dinner table with a plate of juicy chicken in front of you. As you put a forkful of food in your mouth, you notice the pleading big brown eyes gazing up at you. Your heart swells with love, till you notice the drooling and the unrelenting stare at your fork. Then it dawns on you … this isn’t about love, it’s about your food – your dog wants your dinner!
For many dog owners, this is a familiar scene. Your dog might stare, drool, bark, whine, put its chin on your lap and even nudge your arms with its nose – begging and pleading with you to give it some of your food. Some dogs are so bold that they stand up on their hind legs and steal food from their owners’ plates, or jump on the dining table while their owners are eating dinner and help themselves to what looks good.
At this juncture you may ask, “What’s the big deal if my dog does beg? Why not slip him a morsel? It can’t possibly do any harm, can it?” While it is endearing when little Puppy-face first learns to beg, such behaviour can quickly turn into a nuisance. If you allow your dog to take food from your hands when finishing a meal you will invariably end up with a dog that begs at the table for food. In addition, if you have guests over for dinner, they may not take too kindly to a dog drooling on their lap, or even worse a dog that eats off their plate!
Begging can also be more than just an annoying habit. Many dominant dogs carry out the behaviour in an attempt to assert themselves over their owners. While an owner may think that they are being nice to their dogs by feeding them from their plate, in truth, the manipulative dog sees it as a sign of subordination. This results in putting the animal at a higher position in the family than it ought to be in; that is, putting the dog at the human level. A dog with a dominant or pushy nature should never be at the same level as the humans because then you lose control of your dog, making it less likely to obey you when you ask it to do something.
In addition, many dominant dog owners will feed their dog just before they have their meal in the hope that the dog won’t pester them when they eat. However, according to world-renowned canine behaviourist and trainer John Rogerson, “Your dog’s mealtimes should, if possible, be planned to follow your own. An already dominant dog that is fed before the family sit down to eat is being told every day of his life that he is the most important member of the `pack’ because of the preferential treatment he receives at mealtimes.”
So why do most dogs beg FOR FOOD?
There is one thing for sure, dogs beg because they get rewarded for doing so; it only takes once or twice to kick off the habit. In most cases, it is the owners who have inadvertently “taught” their dog to beg. If they are harassed, annoyed or cajoled enough, they eventually give in and give the dog whatever it wants, thereby rewarding the dog. Over time, the owner becomes trained by the dog to give up food in exchange for the dog stopping his annoying behaviour.
Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of the other common reasons why dogs beg for food:
“I’m starving – feed me!”
It’s hard to believe that a dog that tucks into one or two good meals a day will devote so much energy to mooching. But every dog needs different amounts of food, and it’s possible that your dog is merely hungry. Try moving the mealtime forward by an hour or two, or you can divide the usual amount of food into two to three servings and dish it out more often. Dogs will often feel more satiated when they get several small meals a day instead of one big one. Quite often a dog that ignores its meal could also be doing so because he gets enough food from begging.
It is also important to see that your dog is fed a balanced, healthy diet that agrees with him. Certain foods that agree with one dog may not necessarily agree with another. It is important therefore for owners to feed their dog a diet which agrees with their individual dog.
“Give me love!”
Food is not the only thing dogs beg for. Some dogs beg when they want attention from their owners, even to the point of getting demanding or pushy. If you are watching television, your dog might nudge you to pet it, play with him or just sit in front of the television (whilst your favourite soap opera is on) until you give him what he wants.
Dogs, like people, sometimes develop a strange relationship with food. They’ll beg for food when what they really want is attention. In their mind it symbolises love and companionship.
“My food is bland!”
Most dogs happily feast on the same food every day, but when there are more interesting food aromas around, they might get finicky about what they eat.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with periodically giving dogs new foods, giving in to your dog’s whimsy tastes will make for a fussy eater. If you do, however, feel that your dog’s food is truly bland, you can improve the taste by mixing some wet food in with the dry, or adding water to your dog’s dry food to make a gravy. Even warming food slightly can stimulate a dog’s taste buds. Warm food releases more smells and it is the smell of food more than the taste that gets dogs excited. To avoid a tummy upset, add the new food or flavour to the current one in progressively greater proportions gradually over a period of about one week.
No Whine with DINNER, please!
If you no longer want a wet nose poking at your leg under the table or a pair of deep brown eyes staring mournfully at you as you enjoy your biryani, it is possible to change the begging habit. The hardest part in putting this problem right is being consistent. While it is difficult to ignore a good mooch, experts say that if you give in, you’ll never have a peaceful meal again. So be strong, hang onto your plate and follow these helpful hints.
Ignore Your Dog’s Pleas
The next time your dog starts begging at the dinner table, ignore your dog and carry on with your meal. No matter how much he whines, cries or stares at you, be determined not to give him any food or attention when he behaves in this manner. If your dog stays quiet throughout the meal, when you finish you can reward him with a food treat in his food bowl. This will ensure that over time, your dog will connect food rewards with good behaviour and not bad behaviour at the dining table.
However, you should keep in mind that this is not an overnight fix, especially if begging is a long time habit for your dog. You may have to ignore your dog for several meals until he finally figures out that it gets nothing when he begs. And remember, slipping up even just once a week will teach the dog that if he begs long enough and hard enough, you will eventually give in, thereby creating an even bigger problem than before and making it difficult for him to break the habit.
Eventually, if you are consistent with your rules and corrections, your dog will learn that begging is not a behaviour you appreciate. But do keep in mind that the situation may get worse before it gets better.
Establish a Regular Feeding Area
Establish a definite location from where your dog should now be fed, and make it a separate area from where your family eats. For example, if your family eats their meals in the dining room, the dog should learn to eat its meals in the kitchen. As difficult as it may be try not to feed your dog anything from the dining table, or when you are having a snack; if you do, the lines will be blurred, and your dog will begin confusing your mealtimes with his.
In addition, you can teach your dog that all left over scraps from your plate are only given to him in his food bowl. If you do this every day, he will be conditioned to wait by his bowl whilst you are eating your meal, leaving you in peace.
Over time, as your dog gets used to waiting by his bowl for leftovers, you can even put in a command directing him to go and wait near the food bowl. For example, when you’re eating and the dog comes up to the table and starts begging, tell the dog, “Wait by the bowl.” If he goes there praise him and reward him with a treat in his food bowl at the end of the meal.
Seclude Your Dog During Dinner
Extremely pushy dogs may not be deterred from begging for food by using the “cold shoulder” or “wait by the bowl” commands. With some dominant dogs, you may need to confine them in another room such as the kitchen or bedroom while you eat. If you have to confine your dog during mealtimes, try to make it a pleasant, not punishing, experience. Put some chew toys and your dog’s bed in the room with it while it is secluded. Initially, your dog may bark for a while after you shut the door, but keep him isolated until you’re done with dinner. Wait till your dog is quiet before opening the door, or else the dog will learn that his barking lets him out of isolation.
Give On Your Terms
Whenever you give your dog anything – whether it is a food treat, a toy or attention – it should be on your terms. Always make the dog do something for you before you give it what it wants. So before feeding, petting or playing with your dog, have it “sit” or come when called to earn these rewards. Not only will this reinforce the concept that you are the leader, but it will also forge a close bond between your dog and you. It will also ensure that your dog begs less at mealtimes and will improve his overall behaviour.
Don’t Give In to Guilt
No matter how much your dog manipulates your emotions with those beseeching brown eyes and soulful expressions hang tough and don’t give in.
If your dog is begging for table scraps, remind yourself that your dog is already well-fed with a nutritionally balanced diet and doesn’t need extra food. It would also be wise to note that dogs that are constantly fed at the table get overweight, are generally inactive and usually die younger than dogs that are fed a balanced diet.
You should also make sure you provide your dog with lots of love and affection away from mealtimes.
While you may have to endure more intensive begging initially, it is important that you are tough through this period, eventually if your dog is not rewarded, he will give up the begging. And you will be able to eat a quiet meal – without a dog on your lap.