How to Train Your Dog to Not Eat Human Food

How to Train Your Dog to Not Eat Human Food
Hard difficulty iconHard
Time icon3-6 Months
Behavior training category iconBehavior

Introduction

Does your dog sit next to you at the table begging for your dinner instead of eating his own? Have you ever made yourself a sandwich and left it on the counter only to find your pup has snatched it when you weren't looking? Dogs are notorious scavengers, the urge to behave like this is deeply embedded in their ancestry. But, this doesn't necessarily mean it’s an acceptable behavior.

At the same time, if you have ever given your pup a "treat" in the form of tidbits from your plate or food that is left where he can get to it, you have only succeeded in reinforcing the fact he is getting rewarded (in the form of food) for this type of behavior. While it can be challenging to train your pup not to eat human food, it is not impossible. 

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Defining Tasks

Training your dog not to eat human food falls under the general training, but can be very challenging. The basic command you must train your dog to obey is 'leave it' or your own version. No matter what command you finally settle on, be sure you always use the exact same wording and that you do so with a firm voice that tells your pup you mean business and expect him to obey.

As with most commands you train your dog to obey, this one can take a few weeks for your pup to learn he must do as he is told. But once he learns it, you should find that not only does he stop begging, but in most cases, he will ignore foods that are left within his reach (at least for a while, as any dog will give in to the temptation from time to time).

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Getting Started

Getting started can be a bit challenging, but you have to begin somewhere. Be sure to have plenty of his favorite dog treats on hand to reward your furry friend for getting things right. You may also need to lay in a supply of top quality dog food if you are not already feeding your pup the best, to ensure his nutritional needs are being met. Beyond this, you will need his favorite human food, a quiet place to work, and an ample supply of patience. 

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The Waiting Game Method

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1

Place his food out

Each day place a bowl of your dog's favorite food in the required amount out for him to eat.

2

Give him an hour

Do this twice each day and give your dog an hour to eat before picking the bowl up.

3

Try later

If he doesn't eat it the first time, try again later in the day.

4

Never give in

Do not give in, your dog will not let himself starve.

5

No snacks

Most important of all, do not give him anything else to eat and keep all other foods out of his reach.

6

Smarter than you realize

Your dog is smarter than you may give him credit for. Once he realizes he is no longer going to be given people food just because he is begging and hasn't eaten, he will eat the food you put out for him. The more you repeat this type of training the faster he will learn.

The Leave the Food Method

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1

A quiet starting spot

Start in a quiet room with a plate that has people food on it.

2

Treats in hand

Have his favorite treats on hand.

3

Leave it!

Each time your dog approaches the plate, tell him to "Leave it!"

4

Praise for success

When he does so praise him and offer him the treat. Be sure not to punish him if he fails the test, but be ready to continue working with him.

5

Repeat until he gets it

Be sure to do this every time you see him approaching human food and in time he will simply stop on his own. This method tends to work very well for most dogs and again, the concept of 'leave it' can be applied to anything else you don't want to end up in your furry friend's mouth.

The Treat Space Method

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1

Find a spot

Start by finding a spot for your dog to lie down and stay while you are preparing your meals and eating.

2

Lie down right here!

Teach your dog to lie down on this same spot each time you start preparing a meal.

3

Reward time

When he does, reward him with a treat and plenty of praise.

4

Rinse and repeat

Repeat this process until your dog goes and lays down by himself in hopes of getting a treat.

5

You win

Eventually, your dog will simply go lie down on his own without the need for commands or treats. This method works much better if you give your pup a nice comfy bed to lie on during your meal times.

By PB Getz

Published: 02/02/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Cassandra Cornish

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German Shepherd

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2 Years

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My dog has a new habit of eating out of the garbage or walking by the table and eating food right off my plate when my backs turned. She also reaches out on top of counters for food as well. How do I properly punish so she won’t be tempted to do it again?

May 28, 2022

Cassandra Cornish's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Cassandra, For food stealing behavior that happens when you aren't there or looking, you need to booby trap the area so pup associates the correction with their own behavior or the area and not just you. For a trash can, if you don't already have one you absolutely need to get one with a heavy lid like a metal step trashcan. You can find less fancy versions for decent prices places like Target, Walmart and Amazon. It doesn't need to be a two-hundred dollar one. A thirty dollar trashcan can work great. You can also put the trash in a pantry if you have one or cabinet if it fits. The trashcan is such a large temptation that it should be booby trapped, but it should also be hard to get into in the first place. I would work teaching and practicing the Leave It command for food stealing that's happening in your presence. Start by using treats for practice. When pup can leave those alone even when dropped, then practice with larger sources of food, like chicken (only choose things that would be safe if pup did get the item though - mistakes happen in training). Once pup can leave larger dropped items alone, practice moving away from the item and pup leaving it alone, then setting entire plates of safe food down and having pup leave that alone and even walk past it. This takes practice to work up to that level of training, but it really helps pup learn self-control for when they are tempted in real life. Youtube is a good place to see this type of training being worked through at various stages. Finally, I would booby trap the counter and any table commonly used for eating at. 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. If your dog has any aggression issues in general, like aggression toward you or resource guarding, I recommend hiring a professional trainer with aggression experience to work with you for this rather than doing it on your own. Safety measures will need to be taken and the underlying aggression issues also addressed. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

May 30, 2022

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Motley

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Labrador Retriever

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3 Years

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I cannot keep my pup from eating food that is not hers. Whether it be human food that was unattended or our other dogs food if he doesn't eat it right away. She will run to go and find food and literally scarf it down in a matter of seconds. It's almost like she cannot control herself. I can't even turn around for a couple seconds without her bolting to grab the food.

May 20, 2022

Motley's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Alicia, I would start by practicing leave it. Leave It section of this article: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/train-dog-not-to-chew/ For stealing that is happening while you are out of the room, I recommend creating an aversion to jumping on the counter itself or touching the plate 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 feed the dogs in separate closed crates so the other dog can't walk away from their food, leaving it unattended for the thief. Keep pup near to you with a hands free leash until pup has thoroughly learned the lesson - potentially grabbing food will negate your training efforts - you want pup to think that the counter or plate is always suspicious now so they give up on jumping up. If they successfully get good part of the time it's going to stall your training progress. You may also want to look into low level remote collar training or the use of a pet barrier device for areas that are always food sources that pup is stealing from. I recommend hiring a professional trainer to teach you how to carefully use these tools if you find you need to go that route. Used wrong and it won't be effective and could cause other training issues. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

May 23, 2022


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