It can be pretty annoying to have a dog right up in your face when you’re trying to eat your dinner. Even the most devoted dog nerds among us can find it just a liiitle bit much. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to fix. This article will teach you how to get your dog to give you some friggin’ space around meal times.
Sidebar: how bad is begging?
“Begging” at the table is one of those classic “bad dog” behaviors that “everybody knows” dogs shouldn’t do. As you can tell by all the “unnecessary” quotation marks, I beg to differ (haha get it). People sometimes confess to me that they let their dog hang around the table at dinner or they even *gasp* feed their dog from the table, and then brace themselves as if I’m going to clutch my dog trainer pearls and faint from sheer horror or fly into a dog trainer rage and berate them for being irresponsible dog owners.
Look: I don’t care if your dog begs at the table.
If you don’t care either, if it doesn’t bother you or the other people in your household? Then it’s fine. There is nothing inherently wrong with the behavior. About the only time begging is absolutely a problem is in cases of dogs with resource guarding or food aggression. I’ve come across a couple instances where a dog would approach their human’s plate and then growl possessively. In that case, uhhh yes, that dog needs some training.
But other than that, do what you want. Life is too short to fuss about dog “behavior problems” that aren’t actual problems for you.
The Begging Solution
As with most behavior problems, the basic idea is to teach the dog exactly what he should do while you are eating. I have a few different tactics to try depending on a), how much effort you want to put into this, and b), exactly how obnoxious your dog is.
First: make sure the behavior doesn’t get rewarded
If your dog knows that someone will eventually crack and give him a bite from their plate, or that the baby will inevitably start launching chicken nuggets from her high chair, the begging behavior is only going to get stronger.
So you have a new household rule: dogs do not receive food when they are next to the dinner table. Or if you eat on the couch with a plate in your lap: dogs do not receive food when they are standing within X distance of your plate (you can decide on exactly what distance you prefer, just be consistent about it)
If you have circumstances that make this rule difficult to enforce, such as the aforementioned nugget-launching baby, or roommates, children, or life partners who are too weak to resist sad dog eyes, you will need to physically prevent the dog from being near the food, using management tools like baby gates, a dog pen, or a dog crate.
Method One: the Laziest, Easiest Solution
During dinner, put your dog in her crate, pen, or behind a baby gate with something to keep her occupied: a bully stick, a bone, or a puzzle toy stuffed with her dinner. Simple. Easy. Painless. Do this consistently enough and the dog will come to expect it. It will just be part of her routine.
Method Two: The “But My Dog Just Whines and Cries When I Try That!” Solution
So Sparky quickly finishes off his puzzle toy and then complains at you. You’ll need to teach him that silence is golden:
In a training setup outside of actual meal time, grab a container of small dog treats, put Sparky in his designated area, then go sit at the table. Play with your phone or something. As long as Sparky is quiet, get up about every 30 seconds and give him a treat (or throw the treat at him, if your aim is good).
Do a few ten-minute sessions of this. Over time, decrease the frequency of treat-delivery: 30 seconds, then one minute, then two minutes, and so on. When you can get a full ten minutes of silence between treats, you can move on.
Train during dinner. Do the same exercise, start from the beginning: put Sparky in his designated area, give him a treat every 30 seconds, gradually increasing the length of time between treats.
Plan on using about a week’s worth of dinners to train this.
Method Three: The Solution Where the Dog Thinks It’s Their Idea to Stop Begging
This is another one where you get to be pretty lazy, and let the dog do all the work. A lot of dogs will find this to be a fun game, where they get to guess the behavior that will earn them a reward. Which is good for you, if you can’t stand sad dog eyes.
But with this one, the dog will be free to wander around the table during training. So it will only work if all the humans involved have the discipline never to “accidentally” drop scraps on the floor. (This method is also not appropriate for food-aggressive dogs)
At dinner time, keep a container of dog treats on the table. While Sparky begs, completely ignore her. Two possible outcomes:
1. She eventually gets bored and wanders away, even just a few steps. As soon as she does, say “good dog!” and, while she’s watching, throw a treat away from the table.
2. She never gets bored. She plants herself firmly beside the table and wouldn’t dream of walking away. You can offer a “hint:” Get her attention, and throw a treat away from the table.
In either case: while she’s off eating the treat in the distance, throw another one in the same place. Then another one. And another one. She’ll come back over eventually. Wait for her to wander away again, then throw another treat.
Sparky learns that it’s in her best interest to be far away from the table. She can make treats appear as long as she stays away.
Method Four: The Solution Where You Impress Your Dinner Guests with How Well-Trained Your Dog Is
This is the one where your dog politely relaxes on his bed while you’re eating. First, you’ll need to teach Sparky to lie down on his bed separately from the begging situation. Click here to watch a video on how to do that.
Once your dog has learned the concept of staying on his bed, you can start using it for mealtime manners training. The easiest way to do this is to start by putting Sparky’s bed directly next to your chair at dinner, so you can reward him intermittently.
When dinner is over, give Sparky the release cue. Then, during the next meal, move the bed a little further away. Each meal, move the bed a little bit further, until eventually, it’s in the spot you want it. If Sparky gets up at any point before you say your release cue, just send him back.