It’s easy to blame Oliver for the bad habit of begging at the table, but raise your hand if you haven’t fed him some table scraps at least once. As opportunists, dogs will repeat behaviors that have a history of reinforcement, so if your dog was looking at you with pleading eyes or was whining as you were eating at the table one day and you gave in, you can bet he’ll likely be looking at you or whining again in hopes of getting another tid bit. If you don’t appreciate your dog’s begging behavior, the secret is to stop it is you’ll also have to ultimately change yours.
What Triggers Begging Behavior
If you think that feeding Oliver occasionally at the table won’t establish a habit of staring at your intently and drooling as you eat your steak, think again. If you give food sometimes yes and sometimes no, you’ll have put your dog on a variable rate of reinforcement, which means the behavior of begging at the table will be kept alive and thriving and will never stop. The dynamic is similar to playing the slot machine, the fact that you lose a few times but win some others, is what makes the game addicting.
You don’t have to be deliberately giving food at the table to make your dog stick to your side, all it takes is being a sloppy eater and we all are eventually. How many times have your dropped a piece of bread as you ate and your dog was always ready to catch it? Or perhaps you may not notice it, but as you eat, some crumbs will eventually fall on your lap and when you get up, they’ll inevitably fall to the ground. A wonderful event for Oliver as it’s sort of raining food from his perspective. Not to mention children who secretly drop broccoli florets they find unappealing so they won’t be forced to eat them.
How to Stop Begging Behaviors
Stopping begging behaviors will take some effort on your side. No more giving in to your dog’s begging, even if he acts as if he is starving. Be aware that you’ll need to be strong. If you have given in in the past when your dog has pawed at you or nudged you with his nose, he’ll likely increase his begging behavior at first. In behavior terms this is known as an extinction burst and it ultimately is Oliver’s way of saying “hey, you have always given in in the past, what’s up with you know? Don’t you see me? I am pawing at you, helloooooo!”
If you are strong and don’t give in during this time, the begging behavior should gradually decrease and eventually extinguish. You can also train your dog to be patient, and have him stay in a down stay at a distance by the table and then once you are done eating you can reward him by feeding him next. This way Oliver gets to learn some self-control and you get to reward him for that. Alternatively, you can train your dog to lie on a mat while you are eating and you can keep him occupied by giving him a bone to chew on. Dogs like routines, so if you do the same things every day, they’ll go along.
Some Quick Fixes
It may take some time to train your dog to “go to his mat” of perform a long down stay, so in the meanwhile you may be looking for some quick fixes. In such a case, you can use a baby gate to confine your dog in another room or you can have your dog crated. Alternatively, if you wish to have your dog in the same room with you, but not right by your side when you’re eating, you can tether him to a heavy piece of furniture or you can use an eye hook in the baseboard. Again, let your dog have something to chew to keep him occupied so he won’t feel compelled to bark out of frustration.
The Bottom Line
To stop begging at the table, you’ll need a systematic, synergistic approach. First and foremost, you want to prevent access to the table area, and second you want to train your dog an alternate behavior such as going to the mat or performing a down stay. Giving your dog something to do offers a win-win situation: your dog is kept busy while you can finally eat in peace. If you keep it up, you’ll be able to enjoy your meals once again, while your dog stays nicely put.