I was at a new Home Dog Training session last Thursday in Suwanee working with my client and Rudie, his Boxer.  I have trained a good number of Boxers and Rudie was very much like all the rest. He was packed with energy and loved to play and run around. The first part of the training involved teaching my client how to control Rudie and get his calm focus. 

Learn how to stop your dog from stealing and begging at the table

After that, we moved on to advanced behavioral and basic obedience commands. Rudie turned out to be a fast learner and great student. I went through my client’s full list of “Rudie is bugging me because…” and he was quite pleased with the results we had achieved in such a short period of time.  With that said, I began to wrap up the session.

If any of you are as old as I am, you may remember the old detective show with Detective Colombo. He always had this knack of finishing up a conversation and as he was walking out of the room, turn, and ask one more question.

My client seemed to have the same habit.  As I was walking towards the door, he stopped me and said he just remembered another question. It appears that Rudie has an annoying habit of begging and stealing food at the dinner table.  He wondered how he could stop Rudy from doing this and allow for a quiet and pleasant meal at the table.

I started my conversation by explaining how Rudy determines ownership on items such as food.  Understanding this concept is critical when it comes to stealing and begging at the dinner table. 

Dogs determine ownership based on proximity.  This concept stems from the time they were “wolves in the wild”.  If another wolf has killed a deer and is standing over it, they clearly understand that the dead deer belongs to the “hunter wolf”.  They have no right of ownership.  If they try to approach or take a bite, the “hunter wolf” will call them off or forcibly attack.  If the “hunter wolf” wanders off and into the forest, it is a signal that ownership has been relinquished and they are now able to engage the dead deer.

To take this scenario one step farther, what if the approaching wolf sees that the “hunter wolf” is smaller and weaker than him?  In that case, he would probably go for the food and run the original wolf off into the forest.  Even though he knows that the dead deer belonged to the “hunter wolf”, he had no respect for the wolf and decided to “take what he wanted”.

Now, let’s translate this scenario to my client, Rudy, and the food on the table.  When Rudy is begging or stealing the food in front of my client, it clearly demonstrates that Rudy does not respect my client and will “do what he wants”. These dynamics must be reversed so that my client clearly shows Rudy that he is the dominant individual.  To accomplish this, my client must set the scene to allow Rudy to either try and steal the food or respect his leadership and ignore the food.  I gave my client the following exercise to resolve the issue:

  • Establish a virtual boundary around your table in order to create a “don’t be here zone” near the table. This zone will be active while they are eating at the table. Everything away from the table will be the “it is ok to be here zone”.
  • Place toys, goodies, or Rudy’s dinner on the other side of the boundary in the “it is ok to be here zone”. This will provide Rudy with something else to do while you are eating.
  • Have Rudy wearing his leash starting at least fifteen minutes before everyone sits down at the table for the meal.
  • Create a few plates containing “smelly food” that could easily get Rudy’s attention. I suggest using items such as cheese, cold cuts, hamburger meat, etc. Place them on the table. This is now your “pretend dinner”.
  • Everyone should now be sitting at the table with their “pretend dinner” in front of them. Everyone should position their chairs slightly away from the table. This will allow them to quickly stand up from their spots, if needed.
  • Start nibbling on the food, making “yummy sounds” and “chomping noises” as you eat. Move the food around so that Rudy can easily see that you have some “good things to eat”.  Everyone should always be watching Rudy out of the corner of their eye and be keenly aware of his movements.
  • If Rudy starts to get close to the table, begins to cross the boundary, and enters the “don’t be here zone”, the individual closest to Rudy must quickly stand up, face him, and firmly say “NO” in a commanding voice. If Rudy backs away and out of the “don’t be here zone”, that is great.
  • If he remains near the table, calmly pick up his leash and guide him away from the table and into the “it is ok to be here zone”.
  • Once Rudy is away from the table and in the “it is ok to be here zone”, praise his appropriate action by telling him “Good Boy” in a high tone.
  • Calmly sit back down and repeat the “eating distraction” until Rudy loses interest with everyone at the table eating their meal.  

I told my client that he should practice the “eating at the table” exercise several times each day until Rudy understands that he can’t be at the table when they are eating.  I also reminded him that he should practice all the other exercises we discussed on a daily basis. 

Please call or text us at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  You can also email us at [email protected]. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over nineteen years.  We have trained over 6,000 wonderful dogs and excellent families and are ready to help you.