Written by FOTP Team
Does your dog switch on the puppy-eyes whenever you make a sandwich? It’s so difficult to resist giving them a bit of crust. Do we need to stop our dogs from begging, and how can we do it?
There are actually a couple of reasons why dogs beg for food.
Firstly, like many other habits, it's an ancestral instinct. Wolves scavenge for food; without any food security, they must eat whenever they can, and will be alert for any signs of impending edibles. Even though dogs now get regular meals, their instinct tells them to take any opportunity.
However, it’s not always just a habit; some dogs beg when they are actually hungry. As owners we are guided by the dog-food package to measure our dog’s meals and try to give them the “correct” amount of calories. But some dogs, who are particularly active or hard-working, might need more food than specified. If you’ve reduced the number of treats they’re getting, that could be causing the begging too.
On the other hand, some dogs just really love food. Several breeds, like labs and retrievers, are known for being highly motivated by food. They’re the ones who’ll be in the kitchen when you’re making dinner, under the table when you’re eating, and sitting patiently beside the BBQ when the burgers are grilling. They’re also the ones more prone to becoming overweight – so owners should be vigilant to prevent overeating.
Before you begin training your dog not to beg, ask the question: are they actually hungry?
When your dog is the correct weight, you can generally feel their ribs beneath their skin. They’re underweight when you can SEE their ribs and overweight when they have rolls covering their ribs. You can also consult your vet, who will weigh your dog if you’re unsure.
If you believe that your dog is hungry, or they have lost weight, then you should introduce extra food in their bowl – not human scraps, but regular dog food. You can buy special types for high-energy or working dogs, if recommended by your vet. Giving extra treats or scraps isn’t really a good idea. Adding food to their bowl allows you to measure the amount and see whether it affects their behavior around food for the rest of the day.
Also note that, driven by instinct, dogs can sometimes crave food because they are lacking something in their diet. It could be calcium, protein, or fiber – caused by a shortage in their regular food or sometimes by a health issue. It is a good idea to ask your vet about the brand of food that you use and see whether they flag up any concerns.
A begging dog isn’t a major problem – until they’re begging everyone at every occasion. If it’s getting in the way of your life and habits, here’s a guide to stop your dog from begging.
1: Start immediately. Prevention is better than cure – although if you’re reading this article, we might be too late (so skip to point 2). When your dog is a puppy, you establish habits that can exist for a lifetime. So prep everyone in the household to keep their food away from the puppy.
2: No table scraps. Even if you carry plates into the kitchen, scraping them into your dog’s bowl is a bad idea. Not only does your dog start to anticipate extra food after every meal, but it’s also impossible for you to measure how much they’re eating in a day. Human food isn’t designed for dogs, who don’t need carbs or sugar. It may feel wasteful, but you should train yourself to scrape those scraps into the waste. There’s one proviso here: If you have high-value scraps, like steak or chicken, you can save those to add to your dog’s bowl at their normal mealtime if they haven’t been seasoned or flavored. (It’s important that your dog doesn’t associate YOUR mealtimes with rewards.)
3: Always feed your dog separately. Some people fill the dog bowl before plating up their own meal, and it’s natural to fall into a habit of feeding the pets around the time we feed ourselves. But it might help if you feed your dog separately – and feeding them some time before you eat might make them feel less inclined to beg. On the other hand, behaviorists sometimes recommend you eat before your dog to help establish hierarchy (the alpha always eats first) so it depends on the behavior of your dog and what works for you.
4: No food from hands. When you’re out and about eating something like a sub or a crepe, it’s tempting to feed the last corner to your dog. As your daily companion, they – and you – can become used to sharing food when you’re out, and it can even seem rude to eat the whole thing yourself while your best bud looks on! But it’s a habit that will cause your dog to sit patiently at your side EVERY time you eat. They should learn that dog food comes from dog bowls only.
5: Consistency. Prep everyone in the household on the new no-begging regime. Ask them not to feed the dog from their hands – no, not even the end of their ice-cream cone! Ask them to scrape their plates into the food-waste. Finally, ask them to ignore any begging behavior from the dog. You could start commanding your dog to lie down or go to their bed when you eat, if you’re really having trouble, crate them at meal times. Try to establish consistent habits.
6: Prevent high-chair beggars. If you have little ones in the household, you have a whole barrel of extra problems! Babies can throw food and dogs quickly learn that a high-chair is an exciting place to be. Bigger dogs can get their noses onto baby’s lap – and toddlers often find it entertaining to feed food to the dog directly from their plates. You can’t ask babies or toddlers not to feed the dog (well, you can and should try, but they probably won’t listen 100%) – so in this scenario, you will need to put the dog in another room during mealtimes. If you don’t, you’re establishing a pattern of table scraps that will take a lot of training to undo.