Have you got a food thief on your hands? Find out how to discourage your dog from begging or sneaking extra treats with top tips from our expert behaviourist Nick Jones.
Some dogs are professionals when it comes to begging for or stealing food. But all those unplanned snacks are not only bad for their waistline, they can potentially be dangerous if your dog eats something unhealthy. Not to mention that it’s annoying for owners and guests if they become the target of begging – or get their own food swiped!
How to deal with your dog begging or stealing depends partly on your dog’s personality and motivations, but also on your personal preferences. Some owners may have a more relaxed approach, while others will prefer firmer boundaries.
Remember that although foraging and begging for food can be a natural behaviour for dogs, it’s not necessarily desirable to encourage it. Here, Petplan expert behaviourist Nick Jones shares his advice for dealing with this type of tricky behaviour.
1. Establish good mealtime habits
If you’re trying to train your dog not to beg or steal, make sure everyone in the family is on the same page. There needs to be consistency so that your dog has a clear understanding of the rules. There only needs to be a tiny bit of doubt in your dog’s mind about what’s acceptable for them to attempt another food heist!
You may decide that at family meal times, your dog should be on their dog bed. This is easiest to establish during puppy training, but it’s also possible for older dogs.
You could start with putting your dog on their lead and placing this under a heavy piece of furniture near their bed. In time you can remove the lead, once your dog knows what’s expected. You could also offer them a chew treat as a reward and distraction for staying put while the rest of the family is eating.
2. Make sure your dog has a good level of general obedience
Teaching your dog basic commands is going to be of great help. Away from mealtimes, practise asking your dog to sit and stay on their bed, and gradually increase the duration.
Remember that putting your dog in a separate room might solve the problem temporarily, but it’s not a long-term solution. Training does take more time and effort, but you’ll end up with a happier dog, which is better integrated into your family.
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3. Be realistic with what your dog can cope with
Don’t expect your dog to suddenly turn into a perfect character overnight! Some dogs can be left unsupervised with food, and still won’t steal it. Others, who are usually very well behaved, can’t resist the temptation! It’s all about knowing what your own dog can handle.
If you know your dog may go to extreme lengths – such as opening cupboard doors, raiding the bin or reaching onto the cooker or counters – don’t expose them to those sorts of temptations. It’s always safest to shut the kitchen door, limit access and reduce the risk. It goes without saying that you should always keep any foods that are poisonous to dogs, like grapes, onions or chocolate, safely secured at all times.
4. Be careful around celebrations and festive times
Any time there’s a lot of people gathered for a celebration, you’ll need to consider how to approach the situation. Some guests at Christmas may not realise that it’s not appropriate to feed your dog if they approach with a waggy tail and a pleading expression. You might decide to take your dog to doggy day care on the day of a party, or pop them in a separate room. Another option is to keep them on a lead with you, so they can be part of the action, but in a controlled way.
5. Know that it’s possible to change this behaviour
Changing your dog’s attitude around begging is achievable, but it will take time and consistency. Be sure not to feed your dog directly from your plate, even if it’s leftovers. Some healthy table scraps, like steamed vegetables, can make a nice treat as part of a balanced diet, but present it in the right way. Put it in your dog’s bowl and give it to them at their usual mealtime. Other leftovers, like meat, can be used as a high-value reward during positive reinforcement training sessions.
As responsible dog owners, it’s up to us to manage the situations where our dog may be tempted to beg for or steal food – and help them to get into better habits.
If your dog is brilliant at begging for food, have you found any ways to discourage this pesky behaviour? Share them on social media using #PethoodStories!