“My Dog is a thief” writes a girl from Mangalore. They have a two year old German Shepherd Dog (GSD) named Bosky. Otherwise a perfectly obedient dog leaves no chance of stealing edibles from the dinning table or any place within his reach. His craving is so much that even used plates if left within his reach are licked clean by him. “I am really getting sick of my lovely pooch, what should I do now!” she writes.
Such problem is often confronted by the dog owners in varying degrees. Some dogs become regular stealers, while others do so occasionally. In order to understand the problem one has to travel in to the mind of a dog and find out why and how a dog starts stealing food.
As I have oft repeated dogs are carnivorous, pack animals. In natural state they hunt a prey, tear it to pieces and the most powerful of the pack carry away the largest chunk of the thigh and rush to the lair. They gnaw at the bone there, eat the flesh and whatever is extra is ‘buried’ near the lair for future. Each dog has his own spot where he hides his food. The others also know that. The weaklings, who are not able to snatch enough food for self, often crawl to the spot where some juicy flesh is buried and take a mouthful and run. Often they are caught and severely punished too. But the trait of running away with a mouthful remains and is genetically imprinted even in the well bred, domesticated dogs.
There are several other wild traits too which your pet carries. Like, encircling his bed three times before lying down to sleep; trying to cover his excreta by throwing mud over it with his hind legs and of course peeing over the deed of his predecessor. But most of these have been overcome by man by constantly training the dog. Therefore the instinctive compulsion to grab an edible item and rush to his ‘lair’ can also be easily cured.
Instincts apart, most of the time we teach our dogs to steal, out of our sheer love and overindulgence for our pooch. For example, often people feel sort of guilty when their dog is hungrily watching them from a distance, while they are having their food. The dog on the other hand may not be hungry, but he is always curious to know what is on your platter, which is not served in his bowl! He gets fed up with his monotonous dog food and looks for a change. Taking pity, you call him and offer him a morsel. ‘Wow it tastes good!’ thinks the dog and begins to beg for more. And like a doting owner you oblige him. Gradually it becomes a routine to offer him tidbits from the table. Often I have seen people having their grub with right hand and feeding the dog with the left. Some owners go to the extent of sharing their pudding with their dog with the same spoon.
All such practices are wrong and an open invitation to diseases for you and bad habits for the dog. Once used to this kind of treatment, dog does not hesitate and straight away climbs the table. A toy dog will climb the chair and from there on to the table. If the table has been cleared and if plates with leftovers are within his reach, he will not hesitate to lick the plate clean.
I have seen in majority of cases dogs are spoiled by the owners only. A few dogs however, become gluttons due to worms and start stealing to satiate their appetites.
Curing this obnoxious habit in dogs is quite easy. Always remember that your dog is a creature of routine. Therefore he must be appropriately fed as per a schedule. Their biological clock is quite precise therefore the schedule set must be followed to the letter. Second precaution one must take is to always feed the dog at a pre-designated place in his bowl only. This habit ensures that dog correlates the place with food and goes and sits there at the anticipated time. Third precaution is that NEVER EVER feed/reward the dog off the table. If you are so particular that your dog must taste the cookies you made, keep aside his share and give him at his feed time. In case you have to reward the dog during training with tidbits, do so by offering it on your open palm. Do not let him pick up morsels from the floor. This habit, in the long run teaches him not to mouth anything and everything he comes across in the house or on the road.
It is good to teach your dog to eat his food on command only. Hold him as his food is served and count up to five and then ask him to eat. Gradually increase the count by five with every meal and ask him to STAY as he waits. Indirectly your dog learns to stay on command and also to eat only when permitted to do so.
It is always good to make your dinning area/room, out of reach for your dog. Ignore him even of he sits outside and whines to be taken in. By taking him in you succumb to his emotional blackmail. Let him wait outside. You may if deemed necessary, reward him after you have finished your food, with a tidbit, outside the room in his eating place, in his bowl; but let him have it only on your command. I might sound cruel to many pooch lovers, but there is no other way to discipline a dog. And I can assure you that he never feels bad about waiting for that tidbit, once he knows that you will reward him when you come out.
In case your dog runs away carrying something in his mouth from the table, do not shout and chase him. That way you will inadvertently become his pack member and he will begin playing ‘catch me if you can…’. The best way is to go and stand near his eating place, call him there, make him sit and holding him by his neck, gently pull out the toast he had snatched from the table. Ask him to stay and then give it to him in his bowl.
Dog learns by repetition. Therefore if you make a schedule and follow it and reward your dog to remain away from the dining area, or when guests are being offered something, he will oblige you by patiently waiting. Once he learns that he is not supposed to eat from any place, any time he feels like, he stops scavenging for food.
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