One of my absolutely favorite family photos is one of my father at Thanksgiving years ago. It is a picture of my dad at the head of the table trying to eat his meal while his Great Pyrenees and my Rottweiler were under each elbow, a cat on his lap, and my sister’s Poodles standing up, paws on the edge of his chair, all waiting for him to share his meal. What makes it even funnier is knowing that not one dog or cat even stopped for a single moment at my chair, my mom’s chair, my sister’s chair or my brother-in-law’s chair. We all ate in peace as my father kept asking, “Why do they only beg from me?”
The answer is simple. Dogs beg for food because, at one time or another, they have been rewarded for their begging. In the case of our family’s furry friends, it had been reinforced greatly by my father time and time again. That meal was no different as he “snuck” pieces of turkey, bites of stuffing and mashed potatoes to each and every one of them.
So how do we stop dogs from begging for food? The easy answer is to stop feeding your dog when he begs. But is it really that easy? Yes and no. It all depends on your dog’s reinforcement history with you and your family. Recently adopted adult dogs are the easiest to train to stop such behavior in most cases, unless you have already rewarded the behavior. It can be more difficult if you have a dog who has been reinforced for begging for any length of time. But do not be discouraged. You can still stop your dog from begging with a little time, effort and consistency.
3 Ways To Teach Dogs Not To Beg For Food
Choose the method that you think will work for your dog. If one doesn’t work, try another.
1. Simply ignore your dog. This can be very effective. Once your dog starts to beg, you need to completely ignore him.
- Do not make eye contact, talk or scold, push or touch him in any way. If you interact with your dog in any manner, you are still giving your dog attention. This in itself can be rewarding and keep the begging going.
- Do not give in and feed your dog “just this once.” Random reinforcement is the strongest form of reinforcement and will keep the behavior alive. It is what Las Vegas lives by! Just as people will sit at a slot machine and play until they receive another payout, your dog will continue to beg waiting for his.
- Be prepared for an extinction burst. An extinction burst occurs when an action has been rewarded time and time again, and then all of a sudden it no longer works. A great example is a vending machine. If every day you put a dollar in and get a soda, what happens the first time the machine does not vend your beverage? You might start pushing buttons over and over again, including the coin return. The more frustrated you become, the more you push. You might even shake the machine out of frustration. That is an extinction burst. It is the flurry of activity that comes when a behavior no longer gains reward. Once you realize that no matter what you do you are not going to get a soda, you stop. This is the same for our dogs. When you ignore the begging, in some instances it may get worse before it gets better. If you are consistent and do not give in, the behavior will soon stop and your dog will no longer beg.
2. Teach an alternative behavior. One of my personal favorites is to teach your dog to go and lie down at a specific spot. I use a mat or crate pad to designate the dog’s “place,” along with clicker training.
- Have your clicker and treats ready to go.
- Place your dog’s mat on the floor.
- Have your dog lie down on the mat, and click and treat.
- Continue to click and treat at random intervals until your dog is happily lying on his mat. It may take several sessions before your dog is happy to just lie down and get rewarded. That is OK!
- Release your dog from the mat by tossing a treat or toy away from the mat while saying your release word. I personally use the word “free.”
- Put the mat away until your next training session.
- Once your dog sees his mat and runs to lie down on it, you are now ready to add a cue word. As your dog is lying down, say your cue word, click and then reward. Soon your dog will associate your word with going and lying down on his mat.
- Now start using it when sitting down to eat. At first you will need to randomly click and treat your dog for staying on the mat. You can also give your dog something to chew on, or a food-stuffed toy, while on the mat.
3. Use management as needed to help with training or when you do not have time to train. It is particularly important that you use management when you do not have time to work with your dog at mealtime. You do not want your dog to practice begging between sessions, as this will only set your training back. Management includes the following:
- Baby gate: By putting up a baby gate in your doorway you are preventing access to the table. For exuberant beggars, you can use the baby gate as a training tool. Simply place the mat on the other side of the gate during your training sessions.
- Crate: If your dog is happy being crated, place your dog in his crate with a bone or food-stuffed toy while you eat. This is a great option for when you have visitors during the training process.
- Food puzzle toy: Use this to feed your dog dinner at the same time you are eating. By using a toy instead of a bowl, not only will it take longer for him to eat, but usually by the time they are done, they are calm and relaxed and far less likely to beg. This can also be done behind a baby gate.
With training and consistency soon you will be eating in peace. And what if you have a family member that breaks all of the rules? Do not get discouraged. Soon your table will look like our table at a family gathering. While you eat unhampered by a begging dog, you can giggle as your pet spends all of the meal at the rule breaker’s chair instead!