Stealing food from slow moving children or off countertops is a common occurrence driven by your dog’s natural urges to satisfy his constant appetite for anything that smells good. While we think of stealing as a bad behavior, they steal food without one ounce of guilt.

If caught in the act, you probably dish out some form of punishment. Does this mean they’ve learned this conduct is wrong? No. They will continue to do it, maybe when you’re not present, because they don’t think of stealing food as doing something wrong. You can’t be watching them constantly, especially at a large family function, so what can you do to curb your dog’s see/smell/seize behavior?

Prevention Techniques for Your Food Thief

Letting the turkey rest before carving it for your holiday gathering may just be too much temptation for your dog to handle. In his mind, he may be masterminding a commando-style hit-and-run mission of a lifetime … damn the consequences! So, get out ahead of this possible disaster with a few commonsense pointers:

  • Keep the food out of reach. Sounds too simple, right? But think about it. Instead of cooling your meat on top of the counter, you may want to leave it in the oven with the heat turned off and door cracked.
  • Keep your dog well fed. Before your dinner guests arrive, make sure you give your dog a robust meal. The tempting smells of your dinner will still waft through the air, but he’ll be less tempted to enact a seize-and-swallow mission with a belly full of kibble.
  • Train for good behavior around food. Teach your dog to “leave it” when he is near a tempting piece of food. The goal is to teach your dog that his restraint will be rewarded. Start by holding a yummy morsel in your hand and say “leave it” while slowly lowering the food to the ground. If he sits calmly and watches the food being lowered without lunging at it, reward him with a click and give him the food. If he pushes forward and tries to nab it, close your fist around the food and deny him access. Eventually he will learn what you want him to do.
  • Use negative consequences. Devise some sort of unpleasant outcome that your dog will associate with stealing food. It could be a squirt from a water bottle or an acoustic surprise such as shaking a soda can filled with pennies. This may work better on a younger dog that’s not as self-assured as an older dog. If your trick doesn’t work in the first three times, try something else.
  • Be proactive with a treat of his own. Before the food comes out at the party, crate your dog with a food-filled Buster cube or peanut butter stuffed Kong so he is rewarded while passing the time. When the reward is high enough, your dog may look forward to his benign confinement. And it removes the possibility of an accidental nip of a small child’s finger in the process.

In conclusion, we need to accept that our dogs cannot control their natural reaction to a delicious piece of human food. But as good dog parents, it’s up to us to teach them good manners and acceptable behavior. Reward-based training is the best way to accomplish this. And a well-trained dog is a happier and more welcome dog.

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