How to Train Your Dog to Not Eat From the Table

Medium
2-4 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

There are two ways in which your dog might get food from the table. He may steal food from the table when your are not looking, a huge problem if the table is laid for some formal holiday feast and your dog decides to help himself to the turkey and stuffing! Or, your dog may beg at the table incessantly, until someone in the household breaks down and gives him food from the table, which only reinforces the behavior.  

Scavenging for food and following his nose are natural behaviors for your dog, and it is the owner's responsibility to teach their dog what is and isn't appropriate food for him to consume and in what circumstances. There are several problems with your dog taking food from the table. Besides that many people find begging at the table to be disruptive to meal times, unsanitary, and annoying, having your dog take food from a tabletop or counter without permission can ruin a planned family meal. Also, this behavior can be dangerous for your dog--often human food like poultry or fish containing bones can be a health hazard to your dog, and some human foods are toxic to dogs, including grapes, chocolate, and some fruits and vegetables.  Another health concern is that a dog that becomes reliant on human food may not have his dietary requirements properly met, as a human diet is not appropriate for a dog.

Defining Tasks

There are several ways to prevent counter or table surfing or begging at the table before it begins. Teaching your dog to eat his food at his designated location from the beginning, and not feeding scraps or human food, will diminish his interest in your diet, and usually establish that his food is his, and yours is yours. Preventing your dog from opportunistically discovering human food, by keeping him away from the table at meal times and in between and putting food away is recommended. Also, you can use doors and gates to keep your dog away from areas where human food is present, making it inaccessible, to prevent your dog eating from the table in the first place. Punishing a dog for table or counter surfing is usually ineffective because by the time the transgression is discovered, it is too late and the dog will not associate the punishment with the food stealing behavior, besides he already received a reward for that behavior: some delicious food!

Getting Started

While training, make sure that your dog is not tempted to steal or beg for food, by removing access to food left around the house, access to the kitchen, or access to mealtime with the family. If your dog is able to take food from the table it will reinforce his food snatching ways and undermine what you are trying to accomplish. You will need alternatives to eating from the table, which may involve changing your schedule so your dog eats at the same time as you, in his own area, or providing alternatives such as chew bones during mealtime. Also, using treats to teach your dog the 'leave it' command is useful for stopping table eating, and applies to a host of other food stealing behaviors, such as stealing another dog's food or rummaging through the garbage. Noise making devices to deter your dog from stealing food, and a foul-tasting non-toxic substance to lace food with, can also be used to create a negative association with stolen people food.

The Alternative Behavior Method

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Effective
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Step
1
Provide location
When food is being prepared and your dog may hover, waiting for an opportunity to steal food, or when the family is eating at the table, provide your dog with his own space and food to create an alternative behavior to begging or hovering to steal food. Provide a mat or take your dog to his crate, if crate trained, away from the food preparation and serving area.
Step
2
Provide other behavior
Give your dog his meal, or a rawhide bone to keep him entertained at his designated spot. A hollow rubber toy with food inside or a puzzle feeder to keep him busy is a useful tool.
Step
3
Enforce seperation
If your dog leaves his spot, take him back over to it, and command him to 'stay'.
Step
4
Reinforce
Periodically go to your dog and praise him for staying in his spot. Give him an additional treat for staying in his spot.
Step
5
Establish
Repeat this process over a period of days, until your dog learns that when humans are preparing and eating food in their territory, he has his own spot where he consumes his own food.
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The Leave It Method

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Step
1
Command 'leave it'
Hold a treat in your closed hand. Present your closed fist with the treat to the dog, and when he sniffs your hand, say “leave it”.
Step
2
Reward 'leave it'
Provide a treat to your dog when he stops investigating and ignores the hand holding the treat.
Step
3
Increase availability
Place a lower-value treat, such as dry kibble or a biscuit, on the floor and give the 'leave It” command. When your dog obeys the leave it command, reward him with a much better treat, like a piece of hot dog or boiled chicken.
Step
4
Increase difficulty
Move the activity to different locations. Leave treats in strategic places, and when your dog discovers them, give the 'leave it' command. Reward him with a treat when he obeys and start replacing treats with praise and attention.
Step
5
Apply to table food
Use the 'leave it' command when your dog approaches the table or people food. Having established the 'leave it' behavior, your dog should avoid the food. Be sure to praise him as a reward.
Recommend training method?

The Negative Association Method

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Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Treat food
Apply a non-toxic and foul tasting on some people food "bait", such as a commercial food deterrent or lemon juice.
Step
2
Set trap
Set up a “booby trap” with aluminum cans filled with coins that will fall when the dog pulls food off the table, or standby with a loud noise making device.
Step
3
Allow dog access
Set food out and leave unattended. Allow your dog access.
Step
4
Spring trap
When your dog reaches for the food, set off a noise making device, or let the cans fall.
Step
5
Create negative association
The loud noise will frighten and deter the dog, and the taste of the food (if he gets any), will be unpleasant, creating a negative association between stealing food, a loud noise, and an unpleasant taste, which should dissuade your dog from attempting food stealing in future. You can also run into the room, take the food and scold your dog at this point to remove the food reward and add negative consequences to the food stealing behavior. This scenario may need to be set up several times over a few days to reinforce the negative association.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Laurie Haggart

Published: 11/13/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Ghost Zeus
Siberian Husky
13 Months
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Question
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Ghost Zeus
Siberian Husky
13 Months

we just baught the dog off of a friend of mine because he was at home in his crate too much and he broke the crate and would get destructive ... my question is how to train him not to take food from the tables and counters as i noticed she had very inconsistent training
with him

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello Chantelle, First, work on the Leave It command from the article linked below for surfing that happens when you are present. Leave It method- the first part of that method that involves food. Gradually work up to pup leaving harder foods alone - like kibble - treats - chicken - hotdogs - until pup can leave food on the floor alone when told that command while you are there to enforce it and prevent pup from grabbing it. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite For surfing that is happening while you are out of the room, I recommend creating an aversion to jumping on the counter itself. There are a few ways to do this. You can place something like a scat mat on the counter and put a food temptation further back on the counter just out of reach - when pup jumps up the mat gives a static shock - nothing harsh but its uncomfortable and surprising. You can also set up Snap Traps covered lightly with unfolded napkins. When pup touches them on the edge of the counter, they will jump up and make a snapping sound - startling pup. These are designed for this type of purpose so won't actually close on pup like real mouse traps would - don't use real mouse traps because of the risk of injury. You can also stack metal pot lids and pans precariously on the counter. Tie a strong string like twine through all of them and back tie the whole contraption to something secure so that when they fall they can't fall all the way off the counter, then tie another string to the lip or pan that's supporting the precarious set up and tie the other end of that string to a safe food booby trap, like a whole bagel sitting on the counter. The idea is that when pup jumps up and grabs the food, they will pull the objects over and create a loud crashing noise that will surprise them. Because of the back tie string the objects should not fall on pup though. With all of these setups, you will need to set up a camera to spy on pup from the other room and be ready to run in and remove any food left on the counter or floor, so that pup doesn't return to the scene of the crime once things are calm and eat the food anyway - otherwise they may decide that its still worth it to jump up. You will need to practice this setup often with pup in different parts of the counter and with different foods. Don't use any food that could harm pup if they were to eat it - like chicken bones, grapes, chocolate, xylitol, nuts, garlic, or onion. When not practicing the trap, keep counters clean and pup confined away from the area or tethered to you with a hands free leash until pup has thoroughly learned the lesson - jumping up and not being surprised and potentially grabbing food, will negate your training efforts - you want pup to think that the counter is always suspicious now so they give up on jumping up. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Presley
Rhodesian Ridgeback
4 Years
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Question
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Presley
Rhodesian Ridgeback
4 Years

Presley has been having a problem lately where she will eat food on the coffee table or kitchen counter, even if packaged. She's never had this problem until fairly recently, and it's only when everyone leaves and no one is home with her, so punishment is ineffective since we come back to discover the food has been eaten.

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
104 Dog owners recommended

Hello, considering this is a new problem, I would take Presley for a vet checkup to be sure there is not an underlying problem like worms, parasites, or an illness. A hungry dog all of a sudden may mean a worm problem. Rule that out and in the meantime, take steps to keep the counters clean at all times by storing all food in the pantry or fridge, taking care to never leave food on the counter. Make the counter an unattractive spot - in other words, place a deterrent that will turn Presley off of the fun of checking out the counter. Place sticky tape along the edge so when she jumps up, she will not be pleased with the sensation. Other people have placed pots and pans or something else noisy along the counter, in the chance that it gets knocked down and scares the dog. Secure the items with a string so that they don't fall on Presley, they just make a lot of noise. When you do catch her in the act, be sure to tell her no, firmly and in a sharp voice so that she has the verbal deterrent, too. Good luck!

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Question
Charlie
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
3 Years
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Question
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Charlie
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
3 Years

Charlie steals food from any table where food is, how can I stop him? He’s very good other, comes when he’s called etc.,

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
104 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I would use the Environmental Correction Method as described here: https://wagwalking.com/training/stop-counter-surfing. Making the act of taking food from the table unpleasant or even scary is the idea of it. The training may take a few weeks. Be consistent and keep working on it. You can also try the Leave It Method described here for biting, but it works well in all circumstances: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite. The fact that Charlie obeys his obedience commands shows that he should learn the Leave It and Environmental Correction Methods quite quickly. Good luck!

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