Dinnertime is when you’re supposed to unplug, unwind, and just savor the moment. But if your dog is crying for a bit of your food, jumping up on the table, or pawing at you during your dinner, it’s hard to relax. Want to fix this problem for good? Here’s how.
Management is Key
Why do most dogs beg? Because it works! If anyone in your family gives Fido a piece of pasta or a sliver of steak from the table, it has taught him that begging works. Dogs are always learning, not just during training sessions. This means that every time you slip Fido a chunk of chicken from your fork, you are literally teaching him to beg more. What if you have small children who drop food at the table? Though it’s unintentional, Fido will make the same association and will continue to beg. So if you want your dog to keep away from the table, he must never, ever be given food there. It’s your job to teach your pup that begging doesn’t work, no matter how much he persists.
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The easiest management solution, then, is to physically remove your dog from the dining area. For low-key beggars, you may be able to keep your dog off the table with a gentle body-block, as I did here with Margaret when we first adopted her. For the more persistent pup, use a gate or fence to prevent him from entering during dinner. If that won’t work, your dog can go into any other safe place: his crate, the backyard, or a bedroom. Or use his leash to tie him to a nearby banister or sturdy table leg (and bring his bed there), so he can watch you eat but can’t participate. If he protests about being removed from the fun, give him his doggie dinner in a food-dispensing toy, which will keep him busy.
Training: Yes, it's Possible!
There are a few useful training techniques to teach your dog what to do while you’re eating. If your dog has never developed a habit of begging, training your dog to mind his own business during dinner should be simple. On the other hand, it may take some time for those who have a long history of joining you at the table. Stay committed to the training process and understand that it’s really challenging for a dog to resist the temptation of food.
Remember that dogs, by nature, are scavengers. Evolution has favored dogs that are skilled at begging and picking up scraps of food, so we can’t expect your pooch to understand why begging is undesirable. Set your dog up for success by teaching him it doesn’t pay to beg.
Go to Your Bed
Start by teaching your dog a Place cue, which means “go to your bed and stay there until I release you.” The dog bed should be within view of the dining area, so you can monitor your dog. In the beginning, you’ll likely have to get up from the table numerous times to reward your dog for his good behavior, or reset him if he gets up before you release him. See an example of how I teach Place here.
To teach the basic level of Place, choose a mat or bed for your dog to lie on.
You can practice this while you’re at the dinner table. With consistency, your dog will learn to go to his bed automatically when you sit at the table. After a little while you won’t need to worry about rewarding or resetting anymore. Release him when you’re done eating, and his reward can be permission to check the floor for any (dog-friendly) food you dropped.
What if You Drop Food?
A Leave It cue is useful for times when you’ve dropped a piece of food and don’t want your dog to rush over to eat it. (Remember, allowing him to eat it will only make the begging worse.) You can see the steps for a basic Leave It here.
Whether you use management or training, it’s critical for everyone in your household to be consistent. Make a plan in your household for a management and/or training strategy, and stick to it.
Kate is a certified dog behavior consultant, certified dog trainer, certified dog parkour instructor, and award-winning author in Brooklyn, NY with Doggie Academy and in Southbury, CT.