It often starts innocently.
You are sitting down to a meal — let’s say a juicy steak, baked potatoes, and fresh steamed veggies — and as you breathe in the mouth-watering aroma, your eyes shift from your plate to some very hopeful little eyes looking up at you. And as you sneak a bit of your dinner under the table, you think: "What harm can it do?"
That’s often how it starts — and the reward that you have just shared with your pet has given him a taste of what awaits if he simply waits to be noticed. If you continue to share your meals with those pleading eyes, you are going to encourage a behaviour that will, in time, become a real frustration.
As your dog develops the expectation that the food will come, it can cause some very annoying behaviours when it doesn’t come — or even doesn’t come fast enough. It often starts with staring and efforts to stay in your line of sight, and escalates to pawing, jumping, high-pitched whining and/or barking to get your attention.
While dogs can develop some very frustrating begging behaviours, cats can be even worse. Cats live in a three dimensional world and don’t recognize boundaries the same way dogs do. Cats are much more inclined to walk right up on the table, into your lap or to hover over your shoulders on the back of your chair in an effort to "share" right off your plate!
When the begging becomes obnoxious, pet owners begin to search for solutions. It is much harder to fix a behaviour later, than it is to simply not allow it to start.
It’s a very simple solution: Don’t share food with your pets, and they won’t expect you to. Begging is not an instinctive behaviour — it is something your pet learns and repeats because it gets results.
If you’ve made the mistake of introducing your pet to the idea that you are willing to share your meals, the only way you can stop the behaviour is with sheer willpower.
Many pet owners have a hard time resisting — and pets can become more and more persistent when they aren’t getting the results. As behaviours worsen, giving in will only teach your pet how far he has to push to get what he wants.
So the secret is to ignore the behaviour and not give in.
It is important to be aware that begging behaviours are a form of dominance. When your pet attempts to push you and is successful, he is putting himself in a position where he is controlling he situation and is learning how to be in charge through pushy, demanding behaviours.
While begging itself is more annoying than truly problematic, it is teaching your pet something that can lead to other more problematic behaviours.
If you are really adamant that you want to offer your furry friends some table food, change the way you do it.
There are two very simple options: One is to simply wait until you are finished eating, and then place the food you wish to share with you pet in his bowl. This prevents begging while you eat, and teaches your pet to expect the food for him to come in his own dishes.
Alternatively, you can portion food to add to your pet’s diet, mixing in human food with your pet’s during his meal times.
It is important to remember that not all human foods are safe for pets. There are foods that are outright unsafe for your pets, and other foods that the canine or feline digestive system is not designed to handle.
Some foods can make them sick, and some human foods are toxic to dogs and cats.
If you choose to share table food with your cat or dog, it is important to make certain that the food you are sharing is safe for your pets.
Dana Grove is an animal lover who works with several pet organizations in Brandon.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 16, 2014