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Dog Begging: Why They Do It and How to Stop It

Two dogs at the table begging for food
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They’re called puppy dog eyes for a reason—those big, pleading, adorably sad eyes that just ache for a bite of whatever you’re eating. 

Hard to resist. But giving in to a begging dog can lead to real problems for you and your pooch. This can range from pesky, unwanted behaviors to medical issues like canine obesity stemming from eating too many table scraps and treats.

Fortunately, stopping a dog from begging isn’t complicated. It just takes a little patience and a few simple steps. Here’s what you need to know about dog begging.

Why Do Dogs Beg?

Happy dog smiling begging for food outside

To figure out why dogs beg, it might be best to first ask—what do dogs beg for? In general, dogs beg for three things: food, toys, and attention/play.

In other words, dogs don’t beg to be annoying and they don’t do it for any complex, social, or evolutionary reasons. They do it “because they want something,” says certified animal behaviorist Yody Blass, owner and director of Companion Animal Behavior in Virginia. 

Blass says the old-school way of thinking about begging behaviors in dogs usually got around to theories about wolves, dominance, and submission, but there isn’t much backing up those theories these days. The truth, she says, is a little more basic: your dog begs because begging works.

“A big part of it is people letting it happen,” Blass says. “Over time, dogs learn what they can and can’t get away with.”

What Does Dog Begging Look Like?

Dog begging at the table

Your dog is smart—and he knows how to game you when he wants something. That usually means he’s figured out that being adorable works. “If we have the goods and they want the goods, they’re going to be cute,” Blass says. “They know how to work us.”

The cute stuff is tough to resist but easy to spot—big, wet eyes, droopy ears, wagging tail, a gentle paw on your lap, maybe a pleading whimper.

But not all behaviors are cute and, left unchecked, dog begging behaviors at the dinner table can escalate to more nuisance or even assertive behaviors, such as:

  • Yipping
  • Barking
  • Nipping 
  • Jumping 
  • Excessive pawing
  • Grabbing food behind your back

Your dog’s breed and natural temperament likely play a role in what types of begging behaviors he exhibits, Blass says.

Keep in mind that not all begging is about food. Sometimes your dog begs because he wants to play. Sometimes he wants to go outside. Sometimes he just wants your attention. “Anything dogs want to do, they have their ways of begging for it,” says Phyllis Beasley, a certified professional dog trainer and owner of Praise Dog!Training in South Carolina.

What’s important to remember is something all dog parents occasionally forget—your dog can’t talk like a human. So he needs to get his message across however he can. 

If he’s begging for something other than food, he might stare at his leash waiting for a walk, or stand by the back door hoping to be let out. Sometimes he might boop you with his nose or try to get you to follow him. Pet parents don’t always interpret these as begging behaviors, Beasley says. 

But if staring or hovering or booping isn’t working, your dog might get vocal. “If a dog barks at you for something, we call that ‘demand barking,’” she says. “It’s not bad behavior, per se, it’s the dog communicating that he wants something. But it’s not the way to do it.”

How to Stop a Dog from Begging

Dog begging with face between owners legs underneath the table

The best way to curb demand barking or pushier dog begging behaviors is to teach your dog to sit for what he wants, Beasley says. “I call it the ‘Say please’ protocol.’”

The good news, she says, is that most dog parents usually teach their pups how to “sit.” For instance, you might teach your dog to sit in front of the fridge when he wants an ice cube (like Beasley’s German Shepherd does). 

But it’s important for pet parents to learn to recognize what their dog is saying by quietly sitting near something he wants and rewarding polite behavior. “We have a saying that behaviors that are rewarded are repeated,” Beasley says. “The key is consistency.”

When it comes to a dog begging for food, approaches you can try include feeding your dog first, feeding your dog in a different room, or blocking your dog’s access to where you eat. 

According to Yody Blass, three tried-and-true things dog parents can do are ignore, redirect, and invest in some basic training.

Ignoring is exactly what it sounds like. When you feel those big saucer eyes lock in on you, don’t engage. “[Dogs are] used to us giving in,” Blass says. “You need to make them wait—although that’s only going to work to a point.”

This is where redirecting comes in. Redirect the dog’s attention to something he would like besides your dinner—maybe a toy or a snuffle mat—in another part of the house. When he figures out that when you get something he also gets something he likes, but can only get it away from the table, you’ll be more likely to eat without “that look” keeping you company.

This, of course, will only happen if you put in some time training your dog to respect your cues, gestures, and hand signals, Blass says. But this is where a lot of dog families get frustrated. “I think a lot of people miss that training part,” she says. “You need to work on it every day for two or three minutes.”

And if all that is still not getting your dog to stop begging, she says, call a professional. “It’s helpful to have someone come in and work with you.”

Dog Begging: Other Tips and Advice

Dog barking at owner begging for food

Whether your dog is begging for food, play, or a nice ice cube, stopping a dog from begging takes a little patience and a little practice. Remember that they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong, so punishing a dog for “bad” behavior won’t work, Beasley says.

Teaching basic cues like “leave it” or simply “no” can go a long way. They’re especially effective with hand or body gestures, since dogs are excellent at picking up nonverbal cues from people, Beasley says.

Her own German Shepherd, for instance, loves fetching a ball and would do it for hours. But when Beasley has had enough, she will gesture with her arms and say “Enough” and then completely disengage.

The bottom line is, your dog will react to the way you respond to begging. Whatever you reward, you reinforce, and if “bad” or unwanted behaviors are getting him what he wants, he will keep doing it as long as it works.