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Dogs Who Steal Food

Parent Category: Dog Talk
in Food
Created: 24 July 2014

Dogs are natural scavengers and do not necessarily stop eating when they are full – they can easily become obese if we do not care for them properly by restricting their food to the type and quantity that is healthy for them (sometimes I wish it was possible for someone to do that for me!). 

Have you ever seen a fat dog and an owner who believes their dog is “not over-​weight, they are content!” Sadly this is a common response from a lot of dog owners who think that giving snacks and human food to animals is a way of giving love. Well, the truth is; it is a bad thing to do to your pet and is cruelty in disguise (look out for our article “Is Your Dog Overweight?”… coming soon).

Have you ever left food where your dog can easily get to it? We know that dogs have a phenomenal sense of smell and some dogs will go to great lengths to find the source of an attractive aroma! Some dogs are very capable of opening drawers, cupboard doors and even the fridge to get at something nice to eat.

Sometimes leaving food on kitchen work surfaces, even for a moment, while preparing a meal can lead to its disappearance. It has certainly happened to us – our youngest knows she must not put her paws on the kitchen work surfaces and will do so only when she knows no-​one is watching. Our carelessness has resulted in the disappearance of some cheese on more than one occasion, freshly baked bread and some quality chicken breasts at least twice!

It could have been much worse!

Human food ‘on offer’ may not always be the ideal food for your dog… some things that a dog finds appetising are toxic for them and may make them sick, potentially leading to an expensive vet’s bill (and of course the inconvenience of your own short-​notice, forced change of dinner menu)!

Alcohol, chocolate, sugar and yeast may all be very attractive to your dog but did you know that they are on the list of the 10 most toxic foods for dogs?

Remember that when you give in to begging behaviour or allow your dogs to loiter near your table while you feed them titbits from your plate, then you are teaching them that this it is acceptable to do this. At the very least encouraging unwanted behaviour that you will regret when you have dinner guests or in particular when children are eating. At worst someone may get bitten because of an accessible or dropped morsel…

I’m sure you have all seen a child with food in their hands which they are not particularly focussed on – well you can be sure in those circumstances a dog would not be focussing on anything else and they may waiting for an opportunity to snatch the food for themself!

It is easy for a dog to snatch food away from a child, potentially leading to a very upset child or worse — the potential greater distress of ‘accidental’ broken skin! If this happens a dog owner could even face a complaint under the law with very serious consequences!!

One of our dogs, while we were sitting on a bench in a park, out of the blue actually jumped up and took and ice cream cone from an adult friend of ours — she had never done anything like that before. At the time we certainly didn’t think that we encouraged or rewarded begging at home! We’ve since been mindful of what we do around our own mealtimes and noticed that we were not entirely innocent… we had not discouraged her from sitting nearby and could now see that she was always focussed intently on the food waiting for some tidbit to fall or otherwise become available to her.

In fact when she was a puppy she was allowed to ‘forage’ under the table and pick up crumbs or tidbits that fell to the floor and of course, this was good training, regularly reinforced, that such behaviour was acceptable. On the other hand our youngest dog didn’t have the same training and knows to keep her distance and wait when humans are eating.

Fortunately for us we were quickly and easily able to adjust this behaviour, getting both of our dogs to wait in their ‘baskets’ in the kitchen during mealtimes. This of course works at home but would not necessarily work in an outdoor space, so we have also worked on reinforcing their ‘lie down and stay’ for such situations… as well as being sure to always have an appropriate supply of treats with us in case we need a little extra incentive.

We have a client with a young daughter, whose dog was allowed to be nearby at mealtimes or when the little girl was having a snack and the dog had started to snatch food from her. This particular issue was solved by having the family decide on a place for the dog to ‘wait’ whenever the family was eating and with a little positive reinforcement training the dog quickly learned that this was a rewarding thing to do. 

If you like to take your dogs to other places, remember that your dog will not differentiate between their home and someone else’s home – unlike children dogs won’t ‘get’ that they need to be on their best behaviour when visiting! So be mindful that whatever behaviour you allow at home will be how they may behave wherever they are; including jumping up, jumping onto furniture as well as scavenging for food…

We’re not saying that this is necessarily ‘wrong’ – it’s just something to bear in mind in the interests of keeping everyone safe (including your dog).

Undeniably, it is best to feed your dog from their own bowl at their own regular meal times and make sure that all other family members, or people who come into regular contact with your dog, are also on board with this practice so that you don’t confuse your dog with mixed messages.

As mentioned above, some human foods are not good for your dog and it is best to give them the appropriate quantity of either proprietary dog food or a natural diet, as well as treats, all carefully designed specifically for dogs and their digestive systems…

Dogs can certainly get used to human food and may come to expect and even crave it, which can also lead to health problems and potentially expensive vet’s bills!

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Be Safe With Your Dogs!