This past weekend, I was invited to dinner at the home of friend. My friend is a real southern lady with a house that looks like it came straight off the pages of an interior design magazine. Everything about the evening was perfect from the party decorations to the carefully chosen music playing in the background. Well, everything was perfect that is, until we sat down to eat.
With a fresh blue tablecloth, the table was set for spring. The food looked delicious. And then I noticed there was warm air on my arm. I looked down to see the huge brown eyes of a furry sheepdog. She wanted some shrimp. “Use extinction on this behavior and it will stop,” I thought. Extinction, the ignoring of an undesirable behavior until it goes away, does work. No doubt about it. But extinction isn’t always as simple as ignore the behavior and it will go away. Sometimes, there is an “extinction burst.” This means things get worse before they get better. And get worse they did. The begging sheepdog didn’t like being ignored. She harrumphed and made other non-dog like noises. I continued to ignore her. Then she began to pant. And drool. The hostess chose not to do anything about the dog at the table. Maybe she was ignoring me ignoring her dog. The next thing I knew, there was a sheepdog with her paws on the table trying to grab food from my plate. It was clear that this behavior had been reinforced MANY times before the dinner party. I finally broke down and gave the hostess some feedback. “Have you noticed that your dog has a begging problem?” I said. “Everything else around here is so perfect, I am surprised you would tolerate that behavior.” My friend (or perhaps former friend) looked at me and said, “I thought you were a dog person. I thought you liked dogs.” I realized then that what I really like is well-mannered dogs or dogs who are being trained to be well-mannered. And before you ask, yes, I’ve shared this blog with my friend. Here are some of the tips I gave her:
Begging At the Table
When those gorgeous brown eyes are staring at you, it’s hard to resist sharing a piece of your pot roast. But begging at the table is one canine habit that can quickly become a nuisance. In Canine Good Citizen (CGC) training, owners sign the Responsible Dog Owner’s Pledge. One part of the Pledge says you’ll never let your dog infringe on the rights of others. Those rights include having a dog hair and dog drool free meal if that is your preference.
No matter how much your dog begs, don’t give in. You need to completely ignore the begging 100% of the time for the behavior to go away. Make sure your family members do the same. The behavioral term that applies here is called “extinction.” Extinction occurs when a behavior that has been previously reinforced is no longer reinforced and the result is the behavior no longer occurs.
Other things you can do to decrease begging are to feed your dog before you eat. You’ll have a dog who is not hungry and is more likely to settle down. By teaching your dog basic CGC skills such as down and stay, you’ll have some alternative behaviors that can be used to manage your dog during meal times.
Finally, don’t forget to reward good behavior. When your meal is over, if the dog has been well-behaved, take that one last bite of pot roast from your plate and put it in the dog’s dish. Your dog will soon learn this routine and she might even start waiting by her dish for her treat.
For more information on the AKC Canine Good Citizen Program, see: http://www.akc.org/events/cgc/index.cfm