I’m Begging You! Stop Reinforcing Your Primitive Dog’s Terrible Table Manners!
It starts out cute. That sad pleading face. Maybe add a few cute behaviors and inevitably, we give them what they want. We have also taught our primitive dogs a way to access food. Yup, begging is the owner’s fault, and our friends, and anyone else who feeds our dogs for making “that face”. And before you tell me, no one in your home gives your dog food for begging, I promise you, someone in the house is, and they're lying if they tell you their not. Video record your meals if you don’t believe me. We even do it absentmindedly.
Don’t blame the food for the problem. Prior to World War II, everything a dog ate was “human food”. In fact, most top training and behavior professionals use “human food” for training and behavior modification all the time. We just don’t use it at the table. And if we do, it has a purpose, but I’ll get to that in a minute. The problem here is all about timing. Whatever your dog did to get the food in that moment is what has solidified that behavior. It’s simple cause and effect. If your dog knows that the most likely place to get the most amazing yummies it at the table, they will hover there. It doesn’t help to get up and put it in their bowl either unless your cue was them lying by their bowl. Because remember, it is whatever the dog last did that is getting reinforced. If barking, nudging, pleading, etc at the table, equal scraps in the dish, the behavior will continue.
You can, however, use this situation to create some of the best manners ever! Just like it is the timing of delivering the food matters, you can harness this to mean food for beautiful behaviors. Rewarding a calm settle under the table, or on a bed is a much better use of your generosity. Cut off that grizzle early in your meal and wing a piece at your dog at random moments when they are calmly chilling.
The key is to be proactive. If your dog starts begging and then you ask for a down, your dog still thinks begging is the cue to get you to start the routine and ask for the down. You have to catch your dog doing good things and reward them before they ask. If your dog starts begging before you get the chance to catch good behavior, you have to wait. And not just until they do something polite. You have to wait for them to reset either by walking away or lying down for at least 2-3 minutes. Otherwise, the begging cycle is initiated.
You have to be as zen as possible when training this way. If you react by telling them to down, or quiet, they know that you are watching their behavior and there might be the opportunity for food. They are whittling you down until you finally huff and toss them some scraps. Don’t fall for it. Sit calmly and pretend you don't have a dog. Make sure everyone else is in on it and practicing being zen as well. Then when your dog is being as zen as you, reward them!. You have treats with you ;)
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