Dogs beg for food for a variety of reasons. It can be a learned behavior, a sign of dominance, a response to seeing you eat, or simply a plea for attention. Whatever the cause, it's an annoying behavior that needs to be addressed. Begging dogs can disrupt mealtimes, lead to overfeeding and obesity, and reinforce bad manners. The key is understanding why your dog begs and then using training techniques to change this behavior.
Is Your Dog's Begging a Learned Behavior?
For many dogs, begging starts as a learned behavior. As a cute puppy, your dog quickly learns that putting their paws on your lap and giving you a pleading look results in getting a tasty scrap from your plate. This positive reinforcement of begging continues into adulthood. To your dog, they've learned that begging results in a reward.
Even if you've never intentionally rewarded begging before, some dogs learn this behavior from other sources. They may have been fed table scraps by family members who can't resist that endearing face. Or, they observe that begging gets rewarded when visiting other homes. To curb learned begging, it's important to stop this inadvertent rewarding of the behavior.
Could Begging Be a Sign of Dominance?
Some dogs have a dominant personality. They may see themselves as the leader of the pack. One way this dominance displays itself is by demanding your food. To your dog, they deserve first dibs on all resources – including your dinner. Begging then becomes a learned way to assert their dominance.
Dominant dogs may exhibit other behaviors like climbing on furniture before you, walking through doorways first, or resting in elevated areas. Curbing the begging requires addressing the root dominance issues through obedience training and setting clear rules and limitations.
Does Your Eating Trigger Your Dog's Begging?
The simple act of sitting down to eat can trigger a dog's begging response. The sight and smell of food initiates their pleading. Even if you never give in, your dog has learned to associate your eating with an opportunity to score some goodies. Retraining involves changing this connection by separating your dog from mealtime environments.
This type of begging tends to be most pronounced in dogs that spend all their time by your side. They've never learned personal space when you're eating. Making begging less rewarding by crating your dog or putting them in another room during meals can help weaken this connection.
Could Your Dog Be Asking for Attention?
Some dogs beg for food even when they're not hungry. This busybody begging can be their way of asking for attention. By hovering at your feet and pawing at you, your dog hopes to gain your eye contact and interaction. While they may focus their efforts on your plate, the primary goal is getting you to engage with them.
Dogs left alone for long work days may be especially prone to seeking attention this way when you're finally home. Giving them activities, toys, exercise, and affection at other times in the day can leave them less likely to beg for attention at meals.
Stop Rewarding the Begging Behavior
The first step in curbing begging is to never again reward the behavior. Don't give your begging dog any food scraps, treats, affection, or even eye contact when they beg. Completely ignoring the behavior helps extinguish it.
Instruct kids and guests not to acknowledge begging dogs with rewards or even scolding. Any response is a form of attention that can reinforce the behavior. Be patient as it may take time for this habit to fade once rewards stop.
Separate Your Dog During Meals
Since your dog has learned to associate your eating with reward opportunities, you need to temporarily remove this cue. Crate your dog or place them in another room behind a baby gate during family mealtimes.
Try to make this separation time pleasant by giving them a stuffed Kong toy to enjoy in their crate or room. Once they are quietly settled, bring their crate or gate it off so you can eat in peace without begging.
Practice Obedience Training
Working on "sit-stay" and "go to your place" obedience cues can give you mealtime tools for controlling begging behaviors. Teach your dog to hold a sit-stay a short distance from your eating area or go relax on a dog bed until released. Reward with praise and treats for obeying these commands.
With time and consistency, your dog will learn that being close to you at meals equals listening for and complying with obedience cues instead of getting rewarded for begging. Make sure kids practice these commands with the dog too for consistency.
Exercise and Stimulate Your Dog Before Meals
A dog that is bored, lonely, or has pent up energy may act out with demanding behaviors like begging. Make sure your dog gets adequate exercise and mental stimulation during the day. Take them on a brisk walk or engage in a game of fetch before meal times.
Providing interactive dog toys like food puzzle toys can also help them expend energy and curb attention seeking or demanding behaviors at meal time. A tired, satisfied dog is less likely to bother you while eating.
Train an Incompatible Behavior
One way to discourage begging is to train your dog to perform an incompatible behavior instead. For example, when you sit down to eat teach your dog to go lie on a mat across the room. Reward with praise and treats for obeying this cue.
You can also train your dog to go to their place or crate when you give them a designated release word like "off" or "free." The compliance and reward reinforces laying quietly away from the table instead of begging nearby.
Praise Non-Begging Behaviors
Any steps your dog makes in the right direction should be positively rewarded. If your begging dog moves slightly away from the table, praise or offer a treat. If they obey a command to go to their bed while you eat, reward that decision.
Marking and rewarding these choices to not beg helps your dog understand the new expected behavior. With time, they learn good things happen when they don't beg.
Be Consistent with Training
For any begging-deterrent training to work, everyone in the family must be on board. Make sure kids, spouses, and other guests don't undermine your hard work by rewarding begging behaviors. Consistency is key so establish house rules and remind everyone to follow them.
Also be sure to train your dog in different locations – not just at your regular dinnertime setting. Generalizing the training to restaurants, friend's houses, picnics, etc, helps reinforce begging is never allowed or rewarded.
Use a Muzzle If Needed
In extreme cases of difficult-to-deter begging, a dog muzzle may be needed short term. A muzzle prevents your dog from reinforcing the behavior with stolen food if your commands are ignored. Once conditioned to the muzzle, it can be an aid while you retrain the begging behavior.
Introduce your dog slowly to the muzzle and keep initial sessions positive with treats and praise. A muzzle should only be used for short intervals under supervision to prevent begging, not as a permanent solution. Focus equally on reinforcing desired behaviors too.
Seek Professional Help for Severe Cases
If your dog has an intense begging problem that shows no sign of improvement, seek out professional canine behaviorists for assistance. They can assess if anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, or other issues are complicating your efforts.
In some cases medications may be recommended in conjunction with behavior modification training. For tough begging situations, having an experienced trainer work with you and your dog can turn the tide. Getting professional help is better than living with a chronically disruptive beggar.
Be Patient When Training Your Dog
Begging behaviors in dogs often take time and dedication to overcome. Unlearning a long practiced habit isn't easy. Be prepared that you may initially see an increase in the begging behavior as your dog tries unsuccessfully to get their old reward. But stick with the training and consistently ignore undesired behaviors while praising wanted ones.
In time, your dog will learn that calm obedience and non-begging are the only ways to earn attention and treats from you. Just remember to be patient and consistent during the training process.
Use Anti-Begging Products Sparingly
There are many products on the market that claim to deter dog begging. Automatic misting devices sense motion and spray the dog with water. Ultrasonic devices emit unpleasant sounds. Some gadgets use lights, vibrations or scents to discourage dog behaviors.
While high-tech solutions appeal to some owners, most veterinary behavior experts caution against relying on them. The best approach is addressing the source of the problem through positive reinforcement training without punishment. If you do opt to try anti-begging devices, use them sparingly and under supervision to avoid unintended fallout from the corrections.
Manage Your Dog's Weight
The reality is that extra food fuels begging behaviors in dogs. An overweight dog is much more motivated to beg than a fit one at their ideal weight. Begging leads to overfeeding which leads to weight gain and even more motivation to beg.
To help break this cycle, make sure you aren't over feeding your dog. Measure their meals rather than leaving food out at all times. Limit treats and avoid sharing table scraps. Increase their activity with walks and games. Getting your dog in shape and to a healthy weight reduces their drive to beg.
Seek Veterinary Care if Needed
Increased begging and food obsession in dogs can occasionally stem from medical causes. Issues like diabetes, hypothyroidism, and gastrointestinal disease can spark hunger and begging. Dogs with painful conditions like arthritis or dental disease may beg for tempting treats.
If your dog suddenly becomes a more intense or obsessive food beggar, schedule a veterinarian exam first. Rule out any underlying illness before starting behavioral modification. Your vet can also refer you to a veterinary behaviorist if needed. Medical issues could complicate training efforts.
Use Meals for Training Opportunities
One way to discourage begging is to use your dog's mealtimes for training sessions. Have them perform obedience commands like sit-stay for their dinner one handful at a time.
This mutual work and focus strengthens your bond while also discouraging demanding behaviors. Your dog learns good things come to those who wait patiently, obey commands, and don't beg. This is a win-win approach to improve manners and deepen your relationship.
Teach Your Dog to Relax
Active or anxious dogs may have trouble settling down in the presence of food. But relaxation skills are essential for curbing begging. Training your dog to calmly relax on cue helps prepare them for non-begging mealtime manners.
Use treats to reward desired behaviors like laying down, resting their chin, gently taking treats, maintaining eye contact, and other calm states. Pair these actions with a verbal relaxation command like "settle" that you can later use at mealtimes. Relaxation skills take practice but pay off!
Keep Reinforcing Desired Behavior
As your training progresses and your dog's begging diminishes, be sure to keep reinforcing desirable non-begging behaviors. Continue rewarding them for obedience cues, staying on their mat, and remaining focused on a chew toy.
Frequently reinforce these good choices with praise and treats so your dog maintains them as habits. Acknowledging your dog when they choose not to beg keeps them making the right decisions.
Remain Vigilant After Training
Even after you've successfully trained your dog not to beg, remain vigilant at mealtimes. Dogs are creatures of habit and may backslide if your rules and training become lax. Watch for any renewed attempts to inch closer, make eye contact, or hover while you're eating.
Gently remind and reinforce the desired behavior of settling in their designated spot away from the table. Staying attentive ensures your hard work pays off for the long run.