There can be few things more annoying than a dog that is always begging for table scraps, and giving in to the puppy dog eyes is a big no-no. Nevertheless, many pet owners fall for them now and again! This can easily be the start of a slippery slope, and there are few things as guaranteed to cause problems with training and obedience than a lack of consistency or falling for a sad expression! If you own a young dog, it is particularly important to start as you mean to go on regarding training and table manners, and ensure that your puppy can easily make the distinction between his food and food in general; i.e., that not everything edible is for him! Even with an older dog, it is important not to let standards slip and give in with the occasional treat at the table, as you may soon find that you are creating problems for yourself and your dog.
A begging dog can take many guises, and it is important to recognise the various actions that can constitute begging in order to ensure that you are not inadvertently enabling it. Physically trying to take food from you or your plate is an obvious sign, as is pushing into your space with a head in your lap or on the table. Literally begging by pawing at you is of course fairly transparent in terms of its meaning, and whining or crying for food unless your dog is literally starving should always be addressed! Your dog constantly trying to make eye contact with you and keenly watching for any real or imagined signal that you are calling them up to share can be annoying in itself, and also constitutes begging.
Train your dog from the first day that you get them that begging is not allowed, regardless of what they might have learned previously. Ensure that they can make the distinction between their meal times and how they should behave when anyone else is eating, and if possible don’t give them the taste for human food to begin with.
If your dog is pushy, a consistent annoyance or not listening to your commands, remove them from the room at mealtimes until they have learnt to associate their bad behaviour with banishment, and begin to moderate it. Try to close them in a room that is not immediately adjoining the room that you will be eating in, as whining and pawing at the door can be just as annoying as a dog in the room begging in front of your plate!
As with all forms of training, consistency is the key to success. It is totally counter-productive to give your dog scraps from your plate one day, and expect them not to ask for more on another occasion.
Ignoring your dog when they are acting out and seeking attention or a reward is one of the most effective ways of dealing with begging, but is also one of the hardest things to do. It can make it difficult to enjoy your meal if your dog is clamouring at you, and it can be sorely tempting to either give in and feed a treat, or shout or otherwise vent your frustration at your dog. Ignoring their behaviour aside from telling them ‘no’ firmly if they approach your plate is important though; this includes not making eye contact with your dog, which can be interpreted as a ‘green light’ to come forwards.
Remember that your dog is fed meals of his own, which are provided especially for him and designed to take care of all of his nutritional requirements. The same is true for your own meal, and you should never feel as if you owe your dog a share of it or that it is unkind to deprive him of a little piece. Human food is generally not good for dogs anyway; it does not fulfil their nutritional requirements, and some human foods are actually dangerous to dogs.
In order to ensure that the distinction between your meals and what your dogs eats is clear, do not give treats of any kind, even dog treats, at the same time as you are eating your own meal or while preparing to eat. Your dog will be unable to make the distinction between the different types of foods in the offing, and giving treats at the same time as your own meal is sure to encourage begging.
If your dog remains in the room with you while you eat and is reasonably good about keeping himself to himself, he may well still be on the lookout for dropped scraps, and some apparently sedentary dogs can show quite the turn of speed if something delicious is dropped! As well as teaching your dog not to beg, you should also teach him that dropped food is not a free for all, and that he can only pick food up from the floor if given permission.
If you like to give your dog the scraps of your meal after you have finished, it is important to only do this using their food bowl in its appointed plate, and not feed them from your plate or by hand.
If you have friends or family over for a meal, it is important to ensure that they understand not to feed your dog at the table or if they are begging, and to keep a discreet eye on them doing so! Also don’t forget if you have younger children, you may need to supervise them to ensure that they are not giving treats or scraps to your dog as well.
If your dog has got into a routine of begging and being rewarded, it can take a fair amount of time and patience to train him away from doing this. It is important to be patient about things and not give up part way through, and accept that these things can take time.