I was at a dog training lesson last week in Dawsonville and my client asked one of the “classic misnomer” questions that many dog owners ask. It seems that Cali, her Poodle, is constantly begging for food whenever they are sitting down for dinner. She blames it on her husband because he likes to put pieces of their dinner in her dog bowl before they sit down at the table. She tried to resolve the problem by giving the Poodle some of her kibble when she was begging. Her thought was that if Cali got “dog food”, she would stop begging for the “people food”. The problem was that even after she got her husband to stop putting the “people food” in Cali’s bowl, she continued to beg at the table.
The basic problem that my client faces is that she is confusing “dog food” with “dog behavior”. First of all, there is no such thing as “dog food” and “people food”. Yes, I know that you can go to the store and buy a bag of “dog food”. The thing that you don’t understand is if you look at the ingredients of the “dog food”, it is normally things like chicken, fish, rice, vegetables, etc. These are the same things that we (people) eat. We feed our dogs the same things that we put on our plates. The food from the dog food bag might look a little different, but it still is the same. So, our first epiphany is that our dog is not begging for food from the table because he wants our “people food”. To him, is just food and he wants it. When we give food from our table (any food), the problem still resides.
Feeding among dogs is based on a pecking order. The Alpha or strongest animals always eat first and the rest can have whatever is left over or given to them by the Alpha dog. When your dog sees you as the leader, he will never beg (or demand) food from you because that is not allowed from someone in his position of the pecking order. When Cali, my client’s Poodle, begs from the table, she is telling the family that she is the leader and is demanding her food. When they give her some food from then table, they are reinforcing that perception. This activity will only get worse over time because of the repetitive nature of how dogs learn. Cali will escalate her begging to crawling on their laps as they are eating, jumping for the plates as they are brought to the table, and counter surfing as the food is being prepared. We can’t currently blame her for this behavior because the family is (unknowingly) reinforcing this activity on a consistent basis.
The family must create a consistent rule to repeatedly tell Cali that it is not her right to beg from the table. That is not her place. The best way to easily accomplish this is to establish an imaginary boundary around the table that Cali is not allowed to cross when they are having food at the table (The old “line in the sand” idea.). Once this line is established, if Cali approaches the line, one of the family members will stand up out of their chair, face Cali, and firmly tell her “No”. This is classic, dominant canine communication expressing that what Cali is doing is wrong. As soon as Cali backs off, the family member remains standing for a moment, facing Cali. The family member can then slowly sit down again. If Cali is a little obstinate with her backing off, we simply have multiple family members stand up and perform the “No” communication.
The only way that the family is allowed to feed Cali is by putting food in her bowl, setting it on the ground, and then allowing her to approach the bowl and eat the food. If she tries to jump for the bowl, you correct her with firm “No”. When she is calm and respectful, you can then give her the food. It is always on your terms because you are the boss.
Understanding how your dog perceives food really determines his actions. Remember that there is no such thing as “people food” or “dog food”. It all depends on how you present it.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 or (770) 718-7716 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over fourteen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.