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Dog Behavior Library

Dog Begging

Canine begging is initiated by humans with generous hearts.  In some cases, it is a fun pastime for both pet and person that never causes a problem. Although the intended goal is to do something nice, some canines misinterpret the giving of food treats in one of two ways.

First, the dog may think the owner is trying to train it to act a certain way, by rewarding some behavior. The dog may have been just looking at the owner with love in his heart, but the reward made the dog think that looking at the owner while he is eating is something to be rewarded. After that, the dog may try other things like whining, barking, pawing, etc. Eventually, the owner becomes trained by the dog to do a specific act (give up food) when the dog gives a specific signal or signals.

The dog may have been just looking at the owner with love in his heart, but the reward made the dog think that looking at the owner while he is eating is something to be rewarded.

If the dog is never around anyone but the owner, and if the owner likes this type of interaction, then there is no reason to stop. On the other hand, it is more fun for the dog to be able to go places with the owner. It is often embarrassing for the owner to have guests over, or to take the dog to the beach or other outing, and have the dog "hassle" other people who have food.

The second possibility is that the dog thinks the owner is giving up food as a sign of subordination. Dogs think about relationships in terms of who is in charge. Therefore, if they have the genetic tendency to challenge for authority, they may misinterpret humans giving up food as a subordinate act.

If combined with other unintentional acts and a dog with a personality tendency toward aggression, this can lead to problems with dominance aggression.

Giving food to the dog from the table lowers the human's status in the pack. Conversely, the dog's position is elevated which makes it less likely he will follow your Instructions in the future, unless there is an immediate pay off with food.

If you wish to correct this problem, do not reward any begging with food or attention. If the dog is persistent (and they always are), make the dog SIT or DOWN to earn food or attention. Gradually increase the amount of time he or she is quiet before giving a treat. This approach gradually teaches the pet to wait until after dinner to get his food.

A different approach is to tether (leash the dog indoors near you), or close the dog in a different room. Praise while quiet and give a big reward for remaining quiet.

Once you stop rewarding begging, there is often an initial increase in the begging. The dog thinks he has to exaggerate the Instruction since you are no longer getting the message. This is called an "extinction burst" and if you make it through without rewarding the dog, he will eventually decrease, then give up the begging. So, hang in there!!

An important caution: Do NOT "give in" periodically when you are in a relaxed mood or just not thinking about what you may be starting up again. If you do, the dog learns that if he just begs long enough and loud enough, you will eventually give in.

Now you have created a bigger problem than before. Remember that if you can just be consistent (each person individually) the dog can learn to wait quietly without begging.

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