There are plenty of perks that come with owning a dog. You gain a full-time furry best friend, a loyal companion who follows you everywhere you go, even to the bathroom. Someone who is always around for cuddles, playtime, and protection and who doesn’t judge your couch-potato habits or odd quirks. That is not surprising, considering dogs have some eccentricities of their own, from sock-sniffing to staring at you obsessively when you aren’t looking. Sitting and watching their owners eat is possibly one of the most frequent and universal habits dogs have. Are leftovers their only motive? Maybe if they are lucky, they’ll catch an unintentionally dropped spoonful or two mid-flight as well. Is it okay for your dog to observe you while you eat if he isn’t begging, just drooling?
The Root of the Behavior
While most veteran owners are used to their dog staring obsession during mealtimes, it can be pretty uncomfortable and weird for new pet owners. Though dogs tend to stare at their owners for a multitude of reasons, getting something is the most popular and common reason, especially when food is involved. The expectant gaze or the “puppy eyes” are a tactic used by most dogs to get what they want, most often it is exactly whatever you are eating at that moment. Though this behavior is unwanted, it is most definitely natural and instinctual. In the wild, dogs’ relatives watch attentively as the pack leader eats to let him know they are hungry and that they are hoping for his scraps to eat. If one of the pack members doesn’t wait patiently and shows insubordination instead of hopeful anticipation, the pack leader will often snap at him, bite, or even kill him.
Many people assume that dogs that beg by the kitchen table have been given food during the meal or were allowed to lick off the leftovers from the plates at some point. This is not necessarily the case. Dogs have an amazing sense of smell and can easily tell if it is coming from the kitchen table. They are also perceptive enough to notice occasional crumbs falling off and are always ready to enthusiastically sweep right after them - as if their life depended on it. In addition, our four-legged family members have a great memory - meaning the smell and an occasional crumb are just enough to make them associate the kitchen table in a positive way for a long time and to see it as the source of a potential snack. The bad table manners are very common even though they can be easily avoided with persistence and proper training. However, many dog owners give in to the adorable puppy eyes and some even find the begging cute. Unfortunately, though sneaking a snack under the table from time to time might seem harmless, giving in to your dog’s gaze can carry a myriad of negatives in itself and cause other bad behavior.
Encouraging the Behavior
Since it is their natural instinct, even if you have never fed your dog from your plate, you might encounter this begging tactic. However, just because it is natural doesn’t mean it is healthy. Letting your dog manipulate you can undermine your leadership and lead to a loss of control over your dog and his behavior in other areas or aspects as well. Therefore, it is important to discourage the begging behavior from an early age and to remain consistent. Don’t make exceptions as it will just confuse your dog and revert any progress made thus far. As for feeding arrangements, there are two schools of thought. Some experts believe that the owner should eat in front of their dog and before the dog eats, as that is what an alpha of a pack would do to establish or maintain the respect of the other pack members. It is very important to establish yourself as the pack leader early on as it makes any future dog training much easier, however, there are several ways of achieving that and all of them require consistency. Others believe that you should try to feed your dog at the same time that you eat (as long as it is more or less consistent) but to place his bowl away from the kitchen. Depending on your dog’s personality, this habit can strengthen the bond you share but should only be practiced if you are an already established alpha leader in the family.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Lastly, some people feed their dogs before they themselves eat so that their canine bellies are too stuffed to care about what is on their owners' plates. All of these options have one element in common - none of them ever encourage feeding dogs by giving them food off the table or feeding them by the table. Even if your dog patiently waits for the leftovers, they should be placed in your dog’s bowl and should not be licked off by him directly from the plate. Clear guidelines are essential in establishing both superiority, which enables you to train your dog properly and modify his behavior when necessary, as well as a good relationship with your dog. Remember, that even though all dogs love snacks, most of them also really want to please their owners. Letting your dog know from a young age what is good and bad, what you expect and what you approve builds the necessary foundation for future development.
Some dog owners find their furry friend’s puppy-eye look pawsitively endearing, while others can’t stand the guilt-evoking staring. No matter how annoying or adorable the tactic is, you should not feed your dog food off the table or feed him right after the gawking, as it can be interpreted as a reward which can set negative patterns of future behavior. Always make sure that a sufficient amount of time has passed, enough that your dog is no longer glued to the kitchen floor before you give him any dog-friendly leftovers.