Overcoming Your Dog's Begging

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
2-minute read

Today's project is to teach your dog to beg for table scraps. "Wait, what?!" you're thinking, "my dog totally knows how to do that already!" Yes, of course. Some dogs--okay, most dogs--seem to be born knowing how to put their nose in your lap while you eat. And how to paw your knee, and how to nudge your elbow at the exact moment you lift the soup spoon. There is a better way:

  1. When you sit down to eat, set aside 5 or 10 tiny pieces of whatever you've got that your dog likes. And then be patient and ignore her.
  2. Ignore her if she looks at you pleadingly. Ignore her if she barks. Ignore her if she rests her big sweet head on your thigh and whimpers because she's about to drop dead, she's so famished. Whatever you do, don't hold out for 29 minutes and then cave on the 30th. You will have built a dog who has learned to pester for 30 minutes, and you will want to knock yourself upside the head.
  3. Sooner or later, if you resolutely ignore your dog's begging, she will give up and go away.  The instant she lies down, toss her a piece of the food you've set aside. Lying down quietly is now the one and only behavior that will buy her table scraps.
  4. Odds are close to 100 percent that as soon as she's eaten the treat you tossed her, she will get up and start begging again. Your mission: keep ignoring her. Eventually, she'll give up and go lie down again. Then toss her a scrap and repeat, repeat, repeat.
  5. As your dog gets proficient, you can stretch the interval between treat tosses. With enough practice, your dog can learn to wait patiently through the whole meal for a single bite.

But I don't bother to push that far. Our despairing dog settling onto the floor with a deep sigh makes us laugh, and I can't resist tossing him a treat every few minutes in exchange. Remember, the house manners that keep you and your dog happy and comfortable are the house manners that are right for you.

Dog Begging image courtesy of Shutterstock

About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).