The other day a client of mine asked me if I knew any tips to help teach her dog stealing food is not polite doggie manners. I’ve seen this happen (and have had food stolen from!) a few times before, but fear not dog owners there is hope! Thankfully her dog is still a puppy, so these actions can be corrected much more easily, before it becomes a habit. For older dogs that have grown into this habit, it may take more work and patience, but it can be corrected. Any dog can be broken of this habit, and remember, dogs thrive on positive reinforcement and approval from their owners. Follow these to stop your dog from stealing food and begging.
1. Teach Your Dog A Proper Stay
This is the most important thing. This takes some time, but correcting your dogs habit will be successful only if this step is complete. I love clicker training and I’ve achieved the best results with it. Young puppies and adult dogs can catch on quickly. Start off by having your dog go to a “sit” or “lay down” position. Do not give a verbal command to stay. Wait three full seconds, click the clicker, and then reward him. The reason we don’t want to give the verbal command “stay” yet, is because if your dog executes this command improperly, he will associate the word “stay” with the wrong action, for example, wandering off. Only until he understands that he must wait to get the reward can you introduce the verbal command. Increase the time intervals gradually, each time few seconds at a time. Once your dog has this mastered, you can move on to the next step. Remember to keep training time to no more than five minutes a session, especially with young puppies.
2. Begin Reinforcing
Once he has that mastered, start by making him associate you (and your family members) in the kitchen with food means he stays out. This has to be done every time your in the kitchen with food, not just at dinner time. First pick a designated spot for him to stay nicely while you are eating/preparing dinner in the kitchen. Make this a spot nearby enough for him to see you, but not actually in the kitchen. Put him in his designated spot then tell him to “stay”. Go to the kitchen, grab a small item of food (something that doesn’t take long to eat like grapes, a few crackers, etc), sit down at the table, and eat it. This has to be constantly reinforced. If every one in the family does something else, he’s not going to understand exactly what you want of him. The first few times he might just get up and come check out what you are eating, however do not give in the the cuteness! Get up put him back into a stay in his designated area and repeat the process until he stays while your eating. If he does this successfully, make sure you give him a super awesome reward, something that he thinks much better than begging for food or stealing food from you. Perhaps a peanut butter filled treat, or some playtime, whatever his favorite reward might be. Once you figure out what that reward is, save it to use only in this event.
3. Going for the Long Haul
For longer time intervals (everyone sitting down for a dinner), put him in his stay spot and give him something he loves to keep him busy. This can be the same reward you give him for staying out of the kitchen on smaller intervals (if it’s something that will take him a while to work at). Should he become distracted and try to come to the table, you need to get up walk him over to his designated spot and tell him to stay again. A great product that we absolutely love is the Kibble Nibble. It’s a device that slowly disperses your dogs treats/food as he plays with it.
4. Rinse and Repeat
This behavior modification will take constant reinforcement to be successful. Don’t give up, it may be frustrating at times but your dog will learn.