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Do your dogs beg for food? Or is the better question whose dog doesn't beg for food?
Most dog owners have seen those big puppy dog eyes peering from underneath your dinner table or begging for food from your plate and found sharing a few table scraps hard to resist. It's really hard to stop giving your dog food from your plate, we know! We've all done it and that's why dogs do it. Because begging works! It's (sort of) as simple as that.
Dogs learn by association and repetition; they simply do what has worked in the past - which is usually putting those sad eyes to work or whining until you finally give in and feed them from the dinner table. So how can you get your dog to stop begging?
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Even though your dog's begging is probably an unwanted behavior there's no need to get upset with your dog. Begging just comes naturally. Rather than scolding your dog for begging, reward your dog for good behavior with positive reinforcement. In other words, give your dog treats for not begging!
So how do you do that and avoid falling victim to their hungry sad eyes? Teach your dog stationing and you'll be on your way to curtailing your dog's begging behavior while enjoying meal times in peace with your well-behaved dog.
Before we dive into stationing, one quick side note. If your dog begs for table scraps, please be careful to not feed any food that would upset your dog's diet. There are some really great human foods for pets and some really dangerous food that should never be shared with your dog. Reach out to a Dogly Nutrition Advocate if you have a question on food safety because we always want to make sure you keep your healthy pets safe!
Step 1: Learn what stationing is and how it's helpful
Stationing is teaching dogs to go to a designated spot, or station, on cue. If you've already gone through my guides on teaching your dog to go to a mat or dog bed then you and your dog have already mastered this behavior. Now we just need to apply what you learned previously to an environment like the dining area with your begging dog hoping for food. If your dog doesn't have a reliable go to bed/mat/place cue yet, skip down to the next step to learn more.
Bring out your dinner or whatever meal you're eating to the table and give your dog the cue to go to their bed/place/mat. Eat your food, trying to completely ignore your dog while tossing treats their way every so often to reward your dog for staying on their mat and not begging. Remember, you will only see success at this if your dog already has a reliable go to bed/mat/place cue with distractions.
Step 2: Teach your dog stationing
To train dogs to station instead of begging for food, start off by rewarding dogs for following a cue (like "go to your mat") and staying there until released.
If training go to mat/bed/place is new for you and your dog, here are the general steps to learn this behavior:
- Place the mat on the ground. Click your clicker the moment your dog moves toward or even looks at the mat (remember, good timing on your part matters!). Toss the treat away to reward your dog. Each of these steps will be followed by this treat tossing pattern.
- Click for movement toward the mat. Toss the treat away to reward your dog.
- Click for any touching of the mat - even a nose or paw. Toss the treat away to reward your dog.
- Click for one paw on the mat. Toss the treat away to reward your dog.
- After a few clicks for one paw, delay the click slightly and see if you get two paws on the bed or mat. (You're working patiently to gradually build to four feet on the mat.) Toss the treat away to reward your dog.
- Click for three or four paws on the bed or mat. This is a great place to "jackpot" (give your dog several treats in a row) and throw a big party. You're marking success for both of you at shaping a behavior! This is also a great place to take a break, if you haven't already.
- Next we're waiting for the moment your dog offers a sit on the mat or bed. This frequently happens by delaying the click slightly. If your pup shows no inclination to sit, you can skip this step.
- After sitting on the mat or bed, many dogs will offer a down if the click is delayed. If so, great, click this and treat toss! If not, you can cue your dog to lie down once they are on the mat (either sitting or standing, depending on what your dog is more likely to offer) and then treat toss.
- Begin fading the cue for "down." Either make the cue less perceptible through several repetitions (quieter if it's a verbal cue, or smaller movement if it's a visual cue) or just try delaying the cue and see if your dog goes into the down position on his or her own. Dogs are great at making the connection between two behaviors that are often done in sequence (this is called chaining).
- Once the behavior of going to the mat and lying down (without the additional cue for the down) is consistent (ie you'd be willing to bet $20 that your dog will do the whole sequence on the next rep), you are ready to add a cue. This is the thing you will say to your dog when you want him or her to go to their mat and lie down, so pick something that feels natural. I use "On your mat" which is a little long/clunky, but works for me. Other options: Go to bed, go to place, station, etc. You are going to say this after your dog has eaten their treat but before they return to the mat for their next rep. This will take practice before it becomes a learned cue! Do not expect your dog to understand the cue after one session.
To learn more about training this new behavior, I highly recommend going through all of my guides on teaching your dog to go to bed/mat/place, especially the one on distractions as it perfectly applies to putting a stop to begging behavior with our pups as food is the ultimate distractor.
If your dog is unfamiliar with the go to bed/mat/place cue, practice the ten steps to training stationing. Remember, don't add in any distractions like dinner or human food yet. Repeat building in duration, distance and distractions when your dog is successful. Revisit all previous guides on go to bed, if needed.
Step 3: Know when to use stationing
The best time to station dogs is when you're eating, relaxing, or doing anything where they typically beg. If your dog is a beggar, station him/her before they begin begging. Remember, always set your dog up for success! Try to ignore your dog as best you can and not make eye contact while tossing really high-value treats your dog's way.
Your dog may not be able to station for your whole dinner in the beginning, and that's okay! If you think your dog might be too interested in what your'e eating after a few minutes, practice this behavior in small chunks of time. Stopping your dog from begging may take a few weeks of practice and consistent rules so be patient!
Step 4: Practice stationing in real life
Now it's time for you and your dogs to practice stationing in real life! Watch how my dogs practice stationing while my roommate eats dinner. He was eating tamales, and my dogs were very excited about the smell. They tend to beg for food from people more often that are not me or my husband, likely because guests can't resist their soulful eyes and feel bad not sharing their meals. And because dogs are opportunists and human food smells better than dog food!
Instead of telling your dog "no" to stop begging, just send them to their mats or any cozy spot they've been trained to station on. In the video below you can see my dogs are on their mats and I toss them each a treat periodically (they got about 4 or 5 total during this meal).
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Stationing in real life is an excellent way to keep your dog busy and engaged rather than begging for food but it's also great to use in other real life scenarios where you would like your dog to stay calm.
Check out the video of my dogs showing off their stationing skills as well as the other guides where we go into more depth on stationing, and as always, let me know any questions or training triumphs you've been having in the Community discussion in the Manners Channel here on Dogly!
Next up in Food Manners on Dogly
Congrats! You now have a dog who has learned to "drop it", not steal food, and stop begging. The next guide in Food Manners here on Dogly will help keep you sane and your dog safe during dinner or holiday parties. Go there next or if you'd like more personalized training we can always work 1-1 together.