If you have children and a dog, you’ve probably seen the bond that can form between them. While their love for one another can be incredibly precious, it can also lead to some bad habits—especially when it comes to food.
It’s a cycle that only escalates in time: baby drops food, dog eats food, baby sees dog eat food and drops more food, dog keeps eating and begging for more. Repeat.
So how do we break the cycle?
When I noticed my girls dropping their food for Otis and his overexcitement about it, I knew I had to do something. I thought back to the puppy training classes we took and I decided to implement what we learned.
Setting the expectation for the dog
Our instructor taught us that when you want your dog to do something, there needs to be a consistent signal, expectation, and reward until he gets the hang of it.
I decided that while P & C ate, Otis should lie on the couch. The identifying actions would be that I put P & C in their high chairs, point to our couch, and firmly say, “couch.”
Delivering the reward
Dogs learn well on a reward-based system. Knowing this, I used training treats to get Otis to the couch and keep him there.
When dogs meet a large expectation, it helps to give them a large reward. I decided his big reward would be that he could pick up the scraps the girls left on the floor (only if the food is safe for dogs, of course). He would only get to do this if he stayed on the couch the entire time the girls were eating.
I decided Otis would not be allowed off the couch until I had taken P & C out of their high chairs AND I released him. I knew this would be tricky, but I felt like he could handle it.
Putting it all together
When you are training your dog to do something new, you have to be persistent and consistent. Without both of these things, the dog will get easily confused about what is expected of him.
Here’s what it looked like to implement my plan:
When it was time for P & C to eat, I would put them in their high chairs. I would look at Otis and firmly say, “COUCH” and point to our couch. Once he was lying down and relaxed on the couch, I would give him a treat and tell him to stay, using the hand signal we learned in class for that command.
I would continue to give the girls food as usual, but if Otis jumped off the couch I would immediately stop and repeat everything above. That included pointing to the couch and using verbal commands, and offering training treats.
If it looked like Otis was getting antsy, I would keep telling him to stay and offering treats to keep him on the couch.
Once P & C were done eating, I would clean them up and take them out of their high chairs while telling Otis to stay and using my hand signal. If he jumped off the couch early, I would stop cleaning up and take him back to the couch and repeat the process to keep him there.
After P & C were both cleaned up and out of their high chairs, I would look at Otis and enthusiastically say, “okay!” to release him.
As soon as my husband came home that day, I immediately told him my plan and implementation. I knew that if we weren’t on the same page, Otis would not understand our expectations. My husband agreed to the plan and we stayed consistent with our verbal cues and hand signals.
The overall result
It took exactly one day for Otis to understand what we wanted him to do, which we thought was very fast. We went through a LOT of training treats, but it was well worth it.
Over time, we were able to phase out the treats and hand signals and only use the verbal cue “couch” to get him to lie down on the sofa while the girls ate. Now, he goes to the couch on his own as soon as we start buckling P & C into their high chairs. It’s amazing!
If you want your dog to stop begging from your kids while they eat, try out the method I used. Let me know how it goes!
Hello! I am a work-at-home mom to twin girls and a canine. I’m learning what life looks like when you surrender to God. Passionate about parenthood, marriage, and all things coffee!