If you own a dog, you are familiar with “the look”. You know, the one Fido gives you when you are just getting ready to sink your teeth into a particularly delicious looking piece of pizza? Yep, that’s the one. It’s hard to resist those sad puppy dog eyes that make you feel like you’ve been a neglectful owner. After all, you likely haven’t fed him in at least a month in HIS estimation. Fido is a master manipulator when it comes to food, and you’ve succumbed to his wiles many a time. If this sounds like you, rest assured; you are not alone. Dog owners worldwide know the feeling well.
At heart, our dogs are little canine opportunists. They learn very quickly how to play on our emotions to get their desired response. If we manage to stay tough and refuse to give in, there are always “other means” they can attempt. Perhaps you’ve come home from a long day of work to find that the loaf of French bread you left on the counter for supper is now just an empty wrapper discarded beside a very contented looking Fido. Yes, if you’re not going to give Fido what he wants, he not above taking matters into his own paws!
Why do dogs beg?
It’s interesting to consider the motivations behind behaviors that we see in our dogs. Begging is a learned action. It’s not something that we consciously teach; however, it is something that we reinforce. When our dogs sit at our feet and stare up at us with their imploring eyes and we allow them even a morsel of our meals, we have just rewarded the behavior that we don’t want to see. It then becomes a self-perpetuating problem.
Dogs are highly intelligent. It takes very little time for a dog to understand that an action that elicits the correct response will continue to work if offered again. This is precisely how we end up with dogs that beg. If the puppy dog eyes worked the first time for Fido, chances are pretty good that if he trots the whole routine out at a later date, it will pay off for him again.
Though the sad eyes, staring, and hovering during mealtimes can prove a minor annoyance, it is nothing in comparison to how the behavior becomes ratcheted up if the original begging strategy is no longer fruitful.
When our dogs do not get the desired response for their begging efforts, they decide to increase the intensity level of their begging. Before you know it, Fido has turned into an insistent, whining beast who now repeatedly paws at your arms and legs, and even makes an effort to take food off your plate or climb on your table or countertops in his quest to obtain his “prize”. When this happens, it is quite evident to us that Fido has forgotten what it means to have manners, and it is time for him to undergo a refresher course.
Teaching a Better Way
If Fido’s begging has got you down, it’s time to take matters into your own hands and give him a lesson in polite canine behavior.
Here are some steps that you can take to eliminate begging from Fido’s repertoire of “tricks”:
- Restrict Fido’s access during meal times
Sometimes the simplest solution to a problem is prevention. Fido can’t beg for your food at meal times if he doesn’t have access to you. You can accomplish this through a variety of different means.
Some families like to make use of baby gates or doors to completely restrict Fido’s access to the areas where you enjoy your meals. By doing so, you give you and your family the opportunity to eat your dinner without the constant pestering of your dog.
Other families choose to tether their dog to an area that is just out of reach of the dinner table or to place their dog in his crate for the duration of the meal.
Equally effective is giving your dog a snack of his own to enjoy on his bed while you are eating. A Kong stuffed with something tasty or even a raw meaty bone is an excellent choice that will keep Fido’s jaws busy long enough for you to finish your supper without canine interruption.
- Teach the “On your spot” command
Teaching Fido that there is a spot that is his that he must go to when commanded to is also an excellent way to combat the problem of begging.
To do so, choose a dog bed or mat that is for Fido’s use exclusively. You can make use of a clicker to teach your dog that the space is his.
To teach this behavior, start by going over to the mat or bed and rewarding your dog with a click and a treat any time he makes a movement on or near the mat. In the beginning, you can even reward him for looking in the direction of the mat. Using this method, you can shape your dog to stand, sit, or lay on the mat or bed, and to offer this behavior to receive his reward.
Once the dog understands what you are looking for, you can then name the behavior “On your spot” or “On your mat”. Be certain whichever command you choose that you remain consistent with it so as not to confuse your dog.
Once your dog clearly understands the command and the correlating desired action, you can then begin to teach the “stay” component of the “On your spot” cue. Over time, your dog will learn that staying on his mat is a positive thing. It pleases you and leads to things that he likes such as food or toy rewards and praise.
Be certain to use very high value rewards in teaching this important command, so that your dog learns its significance in his “trick” vocabulary.
- Do not feed people food
If your dog is already begging, it may be too late for this piece of advice, but you could still attempt it all the same. Dogs who are frequently given people food quickly become picky eaters. If this is the case for your dog, it is time to break the cycle now by eliminating any people food from your dog’s diet.
- Never give in to begging
No matter how cute—or sad—Fido is looking, it is very important that you do not given in to his begging attempts. As with all dog training, consistency is key. Even one slip up can lead to lengthier training setbacks.
- Ignore rude or obnoxious behavior
Our dogs become masters at communicating to us that they are near death’s doorstep if we do not give in to their demands. Because of this, it is absolutely critical that we ignore rude or obnoxious behavior. Great care must be taken to ensure that we do not reinforce it in any way whatsoever. Because one of the strongest reinforcers for our dogs is our attention, a great strategy is to simply refuse to even look at Fido or interact with him in any way if he is being rude. Over time, he will realize that the behavior that once paid off is no longer achieving his goal, and he will start to offer you something entirely different.
- Praise the desired response
In time, Fido will learn that rudeness does not pay, and he will start to offer better behaviors. This takes a great deal of effort and patience on your part, but take heart; it will happen!
When Fido offers a behavior that is pleasing to you such as sitting quietly by your side or laying at your feet, praise him lavishly for a job well done. Dogs are highly motivated by praise, and you increase the likelihood of seeing this action more frequently if you enthusiastically express how much it delights you.
Yes, begging can be a big problem in many dog loving households. By being armed with a strong resolve and following these few simple training tips, you can help Fido learn that begging is never the right answer!