Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Begging Allowed

Every dog I ever met loves people food. Even the ones that already get home-cooked food, like our two, still want what hubby Mike and I have.
Imagine mouthwatering cooking aromas permeating the living space every day. Imagine having a dog’s superb sense of smell, much better than yours. And then imagine that all you ever get is a bowl of kibble once a day.
Dogs want people food cause people food is more appealing to the nose and taste buds, and if you think that dogs don’t taste, you should watch Will spit out vegetables she detests – broccoli, carrots, tomatoes. She loves green beans.
People food smells and tastes better than kibble, but that is only one reason why dogs try to manipulate us in parting with some of Sunday’s roast.

Dogs understand that sharing food is a sign of social acceptance and inclusion, and that, next to basic physical needs and emotional safety, is most important for them.
Human rituals almost always include eating together, because it creates kinship, and kin lends a helping hand if need be, and that enhances survival during hard times. Wolves feast together on killed prey. The whole purpose of a social group is to be strong in numbers. Sharing resources guarantees both the health of the individual and the pack.
Bonded dogs share toys, a water dish, interesting sniffing spots and even food if there is enough of it. Sharing a resource with a subordinate is a sign of high status, and the attempt to manipulate someone into sharing a possession is an act in submission.
Ergo, begging for table scraps is not challenging for alpha status, but a subordinate understanding that he does not control the food, and asking the one who does to share.

When I cook dinner, I invite my dogs to join me in the kitchen. Actually, I put it on command – say “lets cook”, thereby ordering them to join me. I could also practice the “come” command, or “lets-go” and have them follow me.
And then they beg according to the rules I laid out for them. After all, I’m the boss. And the rules are:
Don’t stare at the food, but connect to me with prolonged, soft eye contact;
Don’t corral me, but keep at least a five feet distance;
Don’t bark, whine, pace or tense, but remain in a relaxed down-stay;
Take the tidbits I’m giving you softly and don’t fight over food I am tossing.
From my point of view, and I bet my dogs’ as well, begging means:
Dog is showing interest in what I am doing;
Dog is connected to me and attentive;
Dog is motivated by something I have control over.
Those are key ingredients for many behaviors I want in day-to-day life. Attention, connection and motivation I need for a reliable recall, obedience around distractions, and self-restraint in anticipation of a reward. Why wouldn’t I take every opportunity to practice that, and especially take advantage of opportunities that allow me to combine domestic duties with training.
I cook, or eat, several times per day – and my dogs practice self-control around a high valued resource several times per day. They also practice to tolerate each other’s presence, and that of an occasional canine guest, around stuff they really want. And I don’t have to scrape away extra time out of my busy schedule to train manners in staged, artificially orchestrated situations.
If your dog joins you in the kitchen, don’t punish him for offering attention and then demand it two hours later in the training class.

By permitting my “girls” to be in proximity when I cook or eat, I communicate that we belong together. So, it’s not really begging, but including - communion building. And because I control the snacks, I score extra leadership points.


  1. I love the approach you take with dogs Silvia. Have you heard of Temple Grandin's book "Animals Make Us Human"? The section on dogs is very interesting.

  2. Thank you, Marjorie. I have the book as a loaner from a friend sitting on my "to read" shelf. I'll take it with me on vacation next week.