I have slowly created a dog monster: a food beggar.
Once upon a time, Joey would sit beside my chair when I was at the dinner table and stare at me. Just that intense, silent penetrating stare. I could ignore that.
But then alone at home over lunch, I’d be seduced into giving him a little scrap or two from my sandwich. At Starbucks, a crew of friendly utility workers made friends with Joey and started giving him a bit of their breakfast — and Joey’s table manners were lost in the dust.
Now he barks for treats from any one sitting at a table. Once he even goosed a Starbucks barista sitting with her friends talking during break, just to let her know that he was there and feeling peckish.
He’s become a demanding little monster — and I unintentionally trained him to be that way.
According to IAMS, all is not lost. They offer the following tips for restoring table manners to an out-of-control dog:
- If you want change, be the change. Strictly follow the rule of never feeding your dog off the table. That means NEVER, no exceptions. You can retrain a dog. According to dog trainer Cesar Millan, every time you cave in with food after a dog whines, put his feet on you or lays his muzzle in the lap, you are rewarding the behavior and encouraging it to happen more often.
- Ignore the dog. Begging is attention seeking behavior, according to Millan. Even petting or giving the dog direct eye contact encourages more of the same behavior. Wayne Hunthausen, DVM, director of Animal Behavior Consultations in Westwood, KS, agrees, adding that even scolding a dog for the behavior rewards his quest for attention.
- Feed the dog on the same schedule as the family. If your dog is nose down in his own dinner, he’s not begging for yours.
- If this doesn’t work, you may need to keep the dog out of the area where you and your family are eating. He’s further away from the tasty smells and you don’t have to see the pleading eyes. Leaving him with a treat can help. Rewarding him with a treat after dinner when you let him out also helps reinforce the pattern.
- Play this game with your do;. Hold a treat in your hand, but make fist around it so he can’t grab it. If he starts whining or nudging, stay firm and don’t release the treat. When the dog finally sits quietly, tell him “take it” and open your hand so he can have the treat. “The command just reinforces the fact that your commands are meant to be followed,” according to IAMS.
- Be patient. The behavior didn’t start overnight and it won’t change overnight. Just hold to consistent discipline. Eventually, the dog will understand the new rules.
Make sure everyone in your dog’s life is on board. Sometimes the most challenge part of this retraining process is making sure your dog’s friends and fans aren’t undermining the new rules. Dog treats in the morning at Starbucks are a habit with my dog-walking, coffee-drinking friends. To retrain Joey, I’m going to have to ask that we save the treats for rewarding obedience on the walk instead of at the table at Starbucks.
One of the challenges of having a dog in your life is understanding that you are always training — and being trained. How to make sure that the lessons that get engrained are the right ones makes for a lot of food for thought.
Many thanks to IAMS for the use of their dog behavior resource articles.