We were in Buford on Tuesday visiting a new Home Dog Training client and his eighteen -month-old Blue Heeler named Daniel. As with most Blue Heelers, Daniel liked to nip at your ankles, jump on you, not pay attention to you, and only come when he felt like it. We worked through all these issues very quickly and our client was quite happy with Daniel’s behavior and the information he was learning.
We had arrived for the lesson around mid-morning, so our lesson naturally overlapped with “lunch time”. Another family member who was not actively taking part in the lesson had come into the room (we were in the family room/kitchen), sat down, and started to have some lunch.
Our client had another dog that was not part of the lesson who, up to that time, had been quietly sitting at the far end of the room, staring out the window. Well, as soon as the other dog noticed that the other family member was eating lunch, he got up, ran over to the table, and tried to steal the lunch.
As soon as I noticed this “classic maneuver”, I paused my lesson with Daniel and asked my client if it was OK for his dogs to steal food from the table. He obviously said “No”, so I suggested that we also include “Table Manners” in today’s lesson. He thought that would be a great idea.
I started out by saying that dogs don’t automatically place an inherent ownership on food. If they see food left unattended, it would be the same if they found a dog bone on the ground in the back yard. To them, that food is “free and readily available to anyone who wished to take it”. With this said, we must understand that it we get up from the sofa and momentarily walk out of the room, any food we may have left behind has become “available to anyone who wants it”.
On the other hand, I explained that it is completely unacceptable for our dog to steal from the table while we are there. If we are supplying our dog leadership while instituting trust, building a bond, and providing companionship; our dog will view us as his protector, caregiver, and provider. Our dog’s natural instinct is that he should never uninvitedly take food from his leader. He can only take food once it is offered to him, and he is allowed to have it.
So, if we have established ourselves as our dog’s leader and he tried to take food from the table while we are sitting at the table (with the food), he is breaking that inherent canine rule. We must, as his leader, tell him that he is doing the wrong thing. To do this, we must set the scene that will direct him to do the right thing, maintain the appropriate rule, and leave the food. I taught my client an exercise that I often use to resolve this situation:
- You must first establish a perimeter around the table that your dog is not allowed to cross when you are eating at the table. I like to call the area outside of the perimeter as the “My dog can be here zone” and the area from the perimeter to that table as the “My dog can’t be here zone”.
- I suggested that he give his dog some distractions such as chew toys, deer antlers, or Kongs. Place them in the “My dog can be here zone” to naturally encourage him to remain there.
- Place a leash on your dog during this exercise.
- Initially have a family member holding the leash with your dog located in the “My dog can be here area”. He should be engaging your dog with the distractions mentioned earlier.
- Make some sandwiches or anything else that could “pass for a meal”. Put them on plates and place them around the table. Everyone (except the family member with your dog) should now sit at their places around the table.
- The family member with your dog should now calmly drop the leash so that your dog is free to roam on his own.
- Everyone around the table should make believe like they are eating the food. Make “yummy” sounds.
- If your dog starts to come close to the boundary and cross into the “My dog can’t be here zone”, stand up, face your dog, and say “No” in a very firm, low manner. If you need to, pick up the leash and direct him back into the “My dog can be here zone”.
- As soon as your dog enters the “My dog can be here zone” and focuses on anything else, say “Good Boy!” in a happy, high voice.
- Slowly sit back down. Always be facing him as you sit.
- Repeat this process until your dog looses interest and does not approach you to enter the “My dog can’t be here zone”.
- Perform this exercise every day until he no longer approaches the table when you are eating.
Performing this simple exercise will make a vast difference at dinner time and improve the quality of life for everybody. You will really be amazed at how fast your dog will learn the rule of “don’t go near the table when my family is having a meal”.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over seventeen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.