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Canine behavior explained: Why dogs beg and how to end it

January 12, 2021
photo of dog begging for food beside table

Begging can be pretty cute in the beginning of your life with your dog. Those staring, soulful eyes, and that keening whine just have the effect of turning the heart into goo. But the pleas can get annoying and even disruptive. Which is a great reason to teach your canine to curb the cajoling when he’s not getting what he wants, whether it’s an ear scratch, to be let outside or to sample a portion of your chicken dinner. Begging is normal dog behavior, but when it becomes a distraction to your daily life, it’s a sign that it’s gotten out of hand.

The following will look at what sets off begging in a dog, and what you can do to put an end to this unwanted behavior.

Why do dogs beg?

When it comes down to it, begging is a form of canine communication. They may stare, they may nudge your hand or even let out a short bark. But begging is often accompanied by a whine.

Go way back to their ancestral wolves, where you’ll find that whining is also one of their many vocalizations to communicate with the pack. Wolf pups whine to elicit care from their mothers. Adult wolves sometimes whine to convey friendliness as well as submission to the pack leader. As with your dog, wolves also whine to express frustration or apprehension.

Clearly, expressing himself through whining comes naturally to your dog. Dogs have caught on that when they want something, a plaintive whimper, sad eyes and occasional Yip! can work wonders on humans. But the good news is it’s a behavior you can address and temper through patience and training.

Why do dogs beg for food when they’ve already eaten?

So your dog has had his dinner, yet he’s right there, begging for a sample — and he’s never satisfied with just one taste. “What gives?” you think.

Chalk it up to powerful impulse at work, which is to scavenge.

Dogs didn’t always live in comfortable houses with two square meals a day, as our companion animals do today. Eating whatever they could find and as often as possible was critical to their survival. In other words, binge eating was a way of life because who knew when their next meal was coming? The instinct to scavenge and binge is still intact. This is why dogs are famous for stealing unsupervised food from countertops and tables, as well as knocking over the kitchen trash to forage for scraps and snapping up any dropped food on the ground.

Scavenging is different from begging, but the behaviors stem from the drive to eat whatever comes along for their survival. By whining, the dog is expressing his drive to eat and he wants you to let him have it.

Is it bad for dogs to beg?

As we’ve learned, begging comes easily to dogs. Giving in to your dog’s wants can feel like an easy way to bond with your pet and make him happy. In the long run, allowing this habit to continue just reinforces it. You’re teaching your dog that if he’s persistent or catches you in the right mood, there’s a good chance he’ll get his way. Can’t blame a dog for asking, right?

Think of what can happen if your dog gets in the habit of getting a sample from your plate every night.

  • You’ll have to be extra vigilant. Some foods upset their stomachs, cause runny stools, or worse, are toxic or poisonous to dogs.
  • Too many handouts can lead to weight gain in your pet, which can create serious health issues.
  • Nothing derails a pleasant dinnertime conversation more than constant interruptions from your dog’s whines and impatient barks.
  • Dogs will then take to tagging along with you around the kitchen as you prepare meals. If your dog is on the smaller size, he can become a tripping hazard, which can be dangerous if you’re handling hot food.

So nipping the behavior in the bud can be difficult, but it will do your relationship a lot of good.

What to do to stop your dog from begging.

As with any behavior training, putting an end to the begging requires three things from you:

  • Patience
  • Consistency
  • The right rewards

If you want to stop the mealtime pleading, you’ll need to rethink your mealtime routine and the family’s responses to his requests. With training, you can teach him to understand that handouts from the table are a non-starter, and direct his attention to other things.

Start early

If you start from when he comes home as a puppy — and stick to food that’s prepared for dogs — there’s a chance he won’t have an opportunity to learn the big reward that comes from pleading and staring.

Serve treats in his bowl

Get into the habit of placing treats in your pet’s bowl. This will teach him to expect food only in his dish, not at the dinner table and not while you’re snacking on the couch.

Understand your goals

If you’re worried about disappointing your dog (and that wide-eyed look can certainly be convincing), it can help to remember what training is all about. You’re teaching your dog what to expect from you, and what you expect from him. If he stops getting morsels as a result of begging, the intensity will wane. Over time, eating in his presence can get much easier.

Get everyone on the same page

Dog training requires consistency. If you want to put an end to the handouts, you won’t get far if members of your family can’t resist tossing him a bite. Before it begins, frame the task ahead as one that requires consistency. To teach the dog there’s no reward in begging, everyone needs to refrain from doling out the extra treats, full stop.

Of course, once everyone is enjoying quiet mealtimes, occasional handouts of dog-safe human foods are OK. With any luck, the human will also be out of the habit of tossing samples to their furry friend. Because this is just as much about human habits as it is about canine habits.

Feed your dog before mealtimes

Just before everyone sits down for the big meal, give your dog his bowl of kibble. Even if your dog has an endless appetite, taking the edge off his hunger should make mealtime training easier.

Assign a special spot to your dog

During mealtimes, provide a “cozy spot” for your dog by placing a blanket, a dog bed or a crate near the dinner table where he can hang out, as suggested by the AKC. Canines are social creatures, so giving him a place to lay down can make him feel included in the family pack. When dinner starts, and the begging commences, use a verbal command to get him to lie down in his spot — and stay put.

Give him something to occupy him

Sometimes, replacing one habit with another can be a transition to change. When he lies down, hand him a treat puzzle to work on while the rest of the family dines. By the way, preparing and handing off the treat puzzle can be the perfect outlet for the human who can’t resist sharing their food.

Use simple commands

Even well-trained dogs slip up at times. As explained in an episode of the Raising Your Paws podcast, training your dog to learn the cue “Enough!” can be an important part of helping your pup mind his manners. To listen, click here.

Don’t scold your dog

If you do only one thing to teach your dog to stop begging, it’s this: Ignore the plaintive whimpers. Scolding him, or telling him “no” repeatedly, is just focusing extra attention on the dog, which can be rewarding in and of itself. The foundation of the training is teaching your dog that begging doesn’t pay off.

A tasty reward for good dogs

A great way to help you guide your dog into better manners is reinforcing good behavior with a well-earned bite of jerky or a bite of biscuit.

Family-owned NutriSource Soft and Tender Treats are the perfect “good dog” snack to keep on hand. They’re 3.5 calories apiece and fortified with Carniking™, a trusted source of L-Carnitine to help your pet burn fat. So while you’re making progress, there’s no worry of overfeeding your dog. They come in three delicious flavors: chicken, lamb and salmon. Shop local, and pick up a pouch at an independent pet supply shop in your community.