Dogs are born with many ancestral instincts, but as much as you might want to believe it, begging at the table is not on the list of natural behaviors for a dog. No, someone, somewhere along the way, taught your dog that begging at the table was an okay-perhaps even cute-thing to do, and now he does it constantly. Not only is table-begging annoying for you, it’s embarrassing when you have company, and it can lead to potentially more dangerous habits down the road such as stealing deadly foods like chocolate or eating an entire package of thawing steaks, bones and all. Fortunately, table-begging is one of the easier habits to break.
Let’s investigate, first, why your dog is begging. Is it because you let him eat food off the floor when you or your kids drop a bite? Is it because you give him the fat from your bacon or your last chicken nugget? Your dog can’t distinguish between food that falls from the table and food that is on the table anymore than he can distinguish between being given your unwanted food and watching you holding and eating the food you DO want to eat. All he knows is that if he’s near the table, he might be fed, and if he’s not being fed fast enough, he’ll make a fuss about it! Maybe you feed him bites of your popcorn while you’re watching a movie. Even that habit can lead to table begging because he’ll associate your eating motions with being fed, regardless of whether you’re eating at the table or not. Whatever the root cause of his table begging is, you must put a stop to it immediately, and make sure that everyone else in your family (kids included!) are refraining from perpetuating the cause, as well.
Now that you’ve put a stop to the reason for the begging, it’s time to get rid of the begging itself. There are several ways to go about this. If your dog has a handle on basic obedience, you can send him to his bed or crate to “lie down” and “stay” while your family is eating dinner. If you’d rather not make him lie down for the duration of your meal, you can give him his own dinner so that he can have the pleasure of eating with the family. The third method is to simply ignore the dog’s begging until he gives up entirely, which offers a more complete fix to the problem than simply locking your dog out of the room while you’re eating! Ignoring the dog means completely ignoring the dog-don’t say his name, don’t look at him, don’t talk to him, don’t talk about him, and don’t pet him. This may be difficult for some people, especially children. Additionally, your dog will inevitably beg harder before he stops begging altogether. After about a week of begging to no avail, however, your dog will eventually grow tired of his efforts and will find something else to amuse himself with during dinner.
So can you still give your dog that spare chicken nugget or the scraps from your bacon? For the health of your dog, you certainly shouldn’t do it very often, but an occasional “people treat” is alright, as long as you don’t feed it to the dog directly from the table. Even a single slip-up of handing the dog food from the table will be enough to completely undo all your hard work! If you must give your dog a scrap or two from your own meal, put it in his dog dish to reinforce that his dish is where his food comes from, not the table. As loudly as your dog may cry and complain at first, refusing his begging antics is the farthest from cruelty you can get. Your dog will not starve to death, nor will he hate you when dinner is over. Take charge of your dog’s behavior and take back the peace of your mealtime and everyone will be happier and healthier for it!