Alex's Corner

Ask Alex: My Dog is a Food Beggar!

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Dear Alex:

My dog is a horrible food hound! I can never have a moments rest while eating without finding a nose on my plate.  I have to admit that the family is not guilt free when it comes to giving scraps from the table, especially my children. I’d REALLY like to break this habit. It’s embarrasing when we have people over! Any tips?

Food Guardian,

Arlington MA

Dear Food Guardian,

Who could resist a little nibble off your plate, especially if they can get away with it? The first thing you need to understand id that begging is a learned behavior. Basically as long as it is allowed by some, the behaviors will need to be tolerated by all. Therefore, your first step is simple: a ZERO tolerance begging policy. If you can’t get everyone in the family to get onboard, you will not be successful, so try and be convincing. Remind your family that many human foods aren’t that great for dogs. A few weeks of unsuccessful begging may do the trick. The most important part of this is to NEVER EVER give food after the dog has been told no. This will not only amplify the begging, but will totally undermine the authority of the feeder!

You can also use this opportunity to to work some training. When your dog comes to the table,  put in them in a sit for the whole meal, and only when it’s OVER will he be released and fed. It’s ambitious and will require a few weeks of strict reinforcement, but feeding your dog after dinner reinforces his place in the pack. In the wild the lowest wolf eats last, so feeding your dog last will signal the same thing.  My Mom feeds me directly after dinner, so I know if I wait patiently, it will soon be my turn.

Finally, as tempting as it is to swat an errant nose on your plate, begging is not negative reinforcement appropriate.  You dog will just end up confused and, while possibly avoiding the punisher, will not stop the begging.

Hope this Helps!

Alex

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