Begging for Food

There isn't a dog on the planet who doesn't lobby for extra goodies now and then. But dogs who persistently beg for food or steal it when no one is looking aren't merely being greedy -- they have something to tell you.

"I'm hungry." It's hard to believe that a dog who tucks into one or two good meals a day will devote so much energy to mooching. But every dog needs different amounts of food, and it's possible that your dog is merely hungry. You may want to try moving the usual dinner hour forward an hour or two. Or you can divide her usual amount of food into three or four servings and dish it out more often. Dogs will often feel more satisfied when they get several small meals instead of one big one.

"Pay attention to me." Dogs, like people, sometimes develop a strange relationship with food. In their mind it's the symbol of love and companionship, and they'll beg for food when what they really want is attention. "Never give your dog food from the table," Thomas says. "You don't want her to learn that pestering you while you're eating will result in her getting a morsel or two. Rewarding such behavior can be the start of an annoying habit."

There's a simple technique that will discourage dogs from staking out the dining table. Choose a single spot where you want your dog to stay when you're eating. It could be in a corner of the dining room or in another room. Just be sure that you can see her while you're eating. Put her on a long lead, lead her to the "place," and give her a treat. If you do this every day, she'll learn that the easiest way to get food is to go to this spot on her own, Thomas says.

"Once your dog consistently goes to her place on command, teach her to lie down and stay in that place," Thomas says. The "down" command can be tricky at first, but here's an easy way to teach it: Hold a treat level with her eyes, then draw it downward and along the ground away from her. She will follow the treat with her eyes and automatically lie down. Give her the treat, tell her to stay, then sit down and enjoy your dinner.

At first you'll want to get up a few times to reward her for staying put. Once she understands that food comes to her, she'll be perfectly content to stay in her place and will be less likely to hit you up for food while you're eating.

"I'm bored with my diet." Most dogs happily feast on the same food every day, but some get tired of having the same old thing, especially when there are more interesting food aromas to check out.

There's nothing wrong with periodically giving dogs new foods, but to avoid dietary upsets, do it gradually by adding the new food or flavor to the current one in progressively greater proportions over a period of about one week. Try mixing some wet food in with the dry. Or add water to your dog's dry food to make a gravy. Even warming food slightly can stimulate a dog's tastebuds. Warm food releases more smells, and it's the smell of food more than the taste than gets dogs excited.

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