Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Begging and Dogs

Company coming over for the holidays?

Does your dog beg for food at your parties?

Dog owners who have a begging dog problem must have rewarded the behavior at some point, either inadvertently or intentionally. Some owners of begging dogs decide to try to break the cycle of begging and reinforcement, but do not have the willpower to stay the course.

Instead, they occasionally cave in, reinforcing the dog's begging behavior on a random intermittent schedule. This schedule of reinforcement produces the most indelible learning of all. It ensures that the dog will continue to beg on the off chance that next time he may win.

Here are several suggestions to eliminate begging:

Have a set feeding regimen for your dog. For instance, feed him twice daily at 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Feed proprietary dog food only so that there is no confusion over what is human food and what is dog food.

Feed your dog at the same time as you sit down to eat, so that he is fully occupied during mealtimes. Also, feed him in a separate location.

If necessary, crate train or tie your dog so that he is not free to roam (and beg) at mealtimes, but make sure he has something to do when confined.

Never give in to begging after you have indicated, "no" – not even once. Recognize begging for what it is and stand fast against repeat requests.

Remember that a behavior that worked in the past will initially be carried out at an even greater frequency when the expected reward is withheld. Do not worry about this exacerbation and do not let it weaken in your resolve. Your dog will eventually stop trying something that does not work. (Does this sound familiar to raising children?)

Teach doggy Zen. Hold a food item in your closed hand. Whatever your dog does by way of begging/nudging do not open your hand. When he relaxes into calm acceptance of the fact that you are in control, by sitting patiently and stopping begging, say "take it" and open your hand. You are now training an acceptable behavior – waiting for a command (more appropriately cue) before the "goods" are produced. The message is that good manners work; bad manners do not.

Punishment is never appropriate. Your dog would not understand why he was being punished and would wind up confused. Punishment teaches a dog nothing except how to avoid the punisher.

A well-behaved dog is a pleasure to have around. One that is constantly trying to push people's buttons is often viewed as a little beggar. The decision to reward or not reward should be made by the owner, not coaxed by the dog.

If the time is not right for the game in question, the dog should be instructed to perform some other behavior that is incompatible with asking/begging, such as going to his dog bed or blanket and lying down. This will only be possible if the owner exhibits firm but fair leadership.

Be in charge. Stay in control. As your faithful friend and follower, your dog will appreciate your lead.

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