How does your dog behave when it's meal time for the humans? If your dog begs for food, he's probably sitting right beside a member of the family, looking longingly at the plates of food, and maybe even whining or barking as he watches the food move from the plate to the person's mouth. Dogs begging for food at the table is a common complaint, but it can also be prevented and corrected.
First, you need to understand that a begging dog learned this bad behavior. If you think back, you'll probably remember times when you've given your dog food from your plate while he was near the table or engaging in that behavior. Puppies, for example, are hard to resist so we slip them a bite of chicken or a chunk of our hamburger thinking it's no big deal. Each time you do that you are reinforcing an undesirable behavior.
What ends up happening is that cute begging dog ends up becoming more forceful to get your food. Some begging dogs even reach the point of stealing food from your plate or off your kitchen counters. That's when you have a real problem.
Obviously, if begging dogs learn this behavior, you can prevent them from learning it, too. You simply never feed them from the table. That doesn't mean you can't still give them an occasional human food treat – it means that when you do, you place the food in their normal dog bowls. That way you're reinforcing that there is a certain place for them to eat and that place is not at the human table.
If you already have dogs begging for food at your table, then you can use the same tactic to break the habit. Dogs learn fast with reinforcement, but they also forget fast when that reinforcement is gone. Essentially, begging dogs will stop begging when everyone in your family stops giving them food from the table. Even if a carrot falls on the floor, the dog should never be allowed to simply clean up the mess for you. After a week or two without reinforcement, the dog will get tired of begging. You can learn some additional ideas for ending your dog's begging behavior by reading “Dealing with Dogs That Beg” from PetPlace.com.
Another way to correct the problem is by scheduling your dog's feeding time after yours. While this may not seem logical because a hungry dog should be more likely to beg, dogs understand pack order better than a growling stomach. Their wolf ancestors knew the pack leaders eat first; the subordinates eat last. By feeding yourself first and your dog second, you'll be reinforcing your family's role as leaders and no submissive dog is going to ask for or steal food from the leader's table.
Keep in mind that stealing can be dangerous for your dog's health. Eating too much food from the counter or eating something toxic, such as chocolate, can have serious health consequences, even death, for your dog. To learn more about protecting your dog from these risks and ending begging behavior read “Food Warnings and Kitchen Safety,” a collection of food tips from the Partnership for Animal Welfare.