A problem that many of my clients want addressed with their dogs is proper table manners. They don’t want their dog to beg for “people food”. However, there are many times when people are at the table, when there is no food present, and will give their dog lots of attention, even calling the dog up on their laps.
In other instances, there may be that one person who sneaks the dog “people food” under the table or even place it the dog food bowl. To combat this behavior, the owners may give the dog “dog food” in bowl so the dog thinks she is getting her own food and not “people food”. One problem with this line of thinking is that she eats the food from the bowl and then is right back at the table. Another problem is that the dog is not discerning the difference between “dog food” and “people food”. If you think about it, there is little difference between “dog food” and “people food”. Looking at the ingredients on healthy dog food bags, the ingredients read chicken, fish, venison, vegetables, etc. These are the same foods that people eat. The food from the dog food bag just looks different. So to your dog it is just food and she wants it.
In the dog world feeding is based on the social structure. The strongest dog (the leader) always eats first and the rest can have whatever is left over or given to them by the leader. When your dog sees you as the leader, she will never beg for food because that is not allowed from someone in her position of the pecking order. When your dog is begging from the table she is telling the family that she is the leader and is demanding her food. When you give her food, you are reinforcing that perception. This will only get worse over time because of the repetitive nature of how dogs learn. Your dog will escalate her begging to crawling on your lap as you are eating, jumping for the plates as they are brought to the table, and counter surfing as the food is being prepared.
To teach your dog to have better table and kitchen manners, you need to create a rule and reinforce that rule consistently. The best way to easily accomplish this is to establish an imaginary boundary around the table that your dog is not allowed to cross anytime you are at the table with or without food. Once this boundary is established, and your dog crosses that boundary, stand up, face your dog, and firmly tell her “No”, followed by an “Out” command. As your dog backs away, remain standing for a moment, facing her to make sure she is respecting the boundary. If she continues to follow the rule, you can then slowly sit down.
The next rule that needs to be followed consistently is no food for your dog around the table or in the kitchen. Your dog should only have food from her bowl. This is another opportunity to have control of your dog’s food manners. Place your dog in a “Sit/Stay”. Once she is calm, place the food bowl on the floor and release her from her “Stay”.
Understanding how your dog perceives food will determine her actions. Remember that there is no such thing as “people food” or “dog food”. It all depends on how you present it.
Jeri Wagner is a canine behavioral therapist and master trainer. Jeri uses a natural training system leveraging the same communication methods – body language and voice control – that dogs follow as part of their instinctive pack mentality. Training takes place in the home where the problems generally occur. Jeri trains in western Montgomery County, northern Chester County and eastern Berks County. For more information, call 1-877-500 BARK (2275) or visit www.barkbusters.com.
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