Recently we asked That Mutt’s readers for suggestions of commands you’d like to revisit or behaviours you’re struggling with. Thanks to everyone who weighed in. We’re working on posts to answer your questions.
Megan said, “I’d love to know how to teach my dog to stop begging for food from my toddler. And if you could teach me how to keep my toddler from eating dog food, that’d be a bonus!”
I’m not sure I can help you with the second, Megan (although I do have a suggestion at the end), but I’m happy to tackle the first.
How to stop your dog from begging at the table
As I said throughout my baby prep series, the best way to prepare your dog for living with a baby is to start before the baby arrives. So ideally you’re establishing the mealtime behaviour you want before you encounter a problem.
However, even if your dog has discovered your toddler is the best vending machine ever, these tips can help you to make mealtimes a little more pleasant (for you, if not your dog).
1. Teach your dog to stay in a specific place
The simplest way to stop your dog from begging is to separate him from the food. Put your dog in a down-stay somewhere away from the kitchen or table or highchair. If he gets up and comes to the baby, take him back. You may have to repeat this several times. He needs to stay until you release him. Choose a release word like “free!” or “break!” Be consistent and don’t give up.
You may be able to assign your dog a spot closer to the highchair or within the dining room, but you’ll likely be more successful if you have more distance between your dog and the baby buffet.
This is also an opportunity to train a command like “place” or “go lay down.” At our house, Baxter does hang around the dining table during meals (and occasionally scores a handout from my husband—I have not been successful at training the husband not to feed the dog from the table).
However, if Baxter becomes too obnoxious or annoying, we know we can say, “Go lay down” and he’ll go—very, very slowly and sadly—to his bed in the living room.
2. Train the people
If you can’t deal with the sad puppy lying by himself in another room (seriously, it’s tragic), you have to train the people. As I said, I’ve not had much luck with my husband. But Baxter doesn’t even try to beg from me. He knows he’s not going to get anything.
So ignore the dog. Fortunately, Baxter is a quiet beggar and just sits and stares at you. If your dog is a little more assertive, ignoring can be really hard, but, again, stick with it. Pretend he’s not even there, and eventually he’ll learn that he’s not going to be fed and he’ll give up begging.
Obviously, this can be impossible hard behaviour to impart to a toddler. The dog is her buddy and she thinks they’re playing a fun game. You may have to spend meals sitting right next to your toddler making sure she doesn’t get a chance to feed the dog and continue to monitor your troublesome twosome. Again, be consistent.
(And accept that it’s not always going to be perfect. Maggie at Oh My Dog participated in the baby prep series, and she later shared on Instagram a funny behind the scenes glimpse of mealtime at her house.)
Don’t feed leftovers to your dog
My final tip about separating your dog from the food is less about space and more about the food itself. Toddlers sometimes don’t have the best record for clearing their plates. Resist the temptation to scrape her plate into your dog’s bowl. As hard as it may be to throw the food in the garbage, you want your dog to understand that the baby’s food is off limits.
How to stop your toddler from eating the dog’s food!
On the topic of your toddler eating the dog’s food, in my safe spaces post I talked about setting certain areas for the baby that are out-of-bounds. This is something that our trainer advised and something that she was able to enact with her daughter, so I’m hoping that it will work for us with Ellie as well.
Baxter’s food stand is one of the baby-free spots. I’ve been careful to not take Ellie into that zone to visit Baxter or help feed him. As she gets more mobile, I’m going to enforce that this area is Baxter’s and not hers. Again, consistency with the baby will be helpful as it is with the dog.
Thanks Megan for your question. I hope that these suggestions are helpful to you.
Anyone else have ideas to help Megan? Any tips that helped to stop your dog from begging?
If you have any other situations or commands you’d like us to discuss in future posts, we’re still taking input. Please share in the comments.
Julia Thomson is a blogger at Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating. She and her family live on a 129-acre farm in Ontario, Canada. Follow Julia on Instagram here.