Let me get right to the point. I never give my dog people food. Why? Because people food doesn’t actually exist. There are consumables and poisons (and some fast foods in between). If you’re asking if I give Opie some of the same food that my family also eats, then my answer is ABSOLUTELY! *Disclaimer- This blog is not intended to replace veterinary advice. Some of the foods that we eat can cause harm to our pups like chocolate, grapes, garlic, onions, pits of fruit, cooked bones etc. AND some dogs may have allergies just like us.*
So why am I making a point to tell you all of this?
Whenever I am working with a family I like to get a list going of the dog’s food preferences so that we can have a good idea of how to pair the value of the treat with the difficulty of the task. Most families report that their dogs enjoy the crunch of a common dog treat but will come bounding for a bite of freeze-dried liver. Sometimes when I’m giving suggestions for other foods to try like broccoli, carrots, cheese, ham, eggs, etc, I am confronted with a common answer:
“We don’t like to give our dog people food because we don’t want to encourage begging.”
This is a valid concern. Honestly, I don’t care if your dog begs or not, you get to decide your threshold on that; however, I can definitely empathize with the frustration of a dog staring/barking/pawing when you would like to eat in peace and isolation. I don’t want my dog barking at me when I sit down at the table for dinner. I don’t want my pup putting his paw up on my leg when I eat my ice cream on the couch.
But the food itself is not the problem. Dogs want to eat. Dogs know that you’re eating food that they would also like to eat. You giving them that food doesn’t inherently create a desire for that food– their big beautiful noses already know that your steak is going to taste good–but the pattern of how they earn that food definitely reinforces whatever they did to get it.
Dogs learn consequences through understanding sequences. If you feed your dog consistently from the table, he’s going to learn that he gets fed when you sit down at the table. If you give your pup finger licks of ice cream when you’re chilling on the couch, she’ll probably follow you to the couch and sit in front of you with those big puppy-dowg eyes every time you make a bowl. In the same respect, if your dog chooses to lay down on his bed while you chop veggies and THEN you then toss a piece of that veggie in his bed, he is more likely to go to his bed when he sees you chopping veggies.
Behavior is shaped through reinforcement. The value of reinforcement, the consistency of reinforcement, and the location/sequence prior to reinforcement all contribute to the likelihood and intensity of that behavior. If your pup is begging for your food, it may not be solely because of that food but possibly because of their learning history.
Corinne’s Favorite Ways of Using “People” Food:
- Instead of discarding broccoli stalks, freeze them (or keep raw) and give your pup a “broccoli bone” to gnaw on while you make dinner. You could also use a whole carrot!
- Set up a bed near the kitchen table and only toss scraps when they are laying down on it
- Layer a Kong with plain yogurt, pumpkin, green beans, and peanut butter, and freeze it for a long-term dog project while you watch a movie.
- Save the cut ends of green beans as tiny, crunchy training treats.
- Think about times when your dog begs. Consider what has happened in the past and ask yourself what you would rather they do instead.
- Reflect on your own reasons for why you feed your dog what you feed them. If they’re healthy and you’re both happy with how things are going, great, no need to change a thing!
- If you’re interested in incorporating foods that you eat into your pup’s diet, talk with your vet for more information on how to keep your pup safe.
You’re doing great!