No Human Food EVER!
The best thing to do is never allow your dog human food. If you start this early, your dog will smell people food all the time and never associate it with eating. So when you cook or eat, your dog does not start salivating because it has not associated people food with eating.
If every time you cook or eat you give your dog food, your dog begins associating cooking and eating with treats. You are training your dog to expect treats when it smells food. Then, when you do not give the dog the treat, it will start looking for the treat himself and start counter surfing or mugging your hand for food.
In my article on Thanksgiving, I share how I train my dogs to sleep while I eat.
Stop Counter Surfing
The easiest way to stop counter surfing (stealing food from counters) is to prevent the dog from receiving a reward. Basically, every time your dog or cats finds food on the counter or table, your dog or cat is rewarded for finding (then eating) the food.
Therefore, you need to stop leaving food out where the dog or cat can get it. Ask relatives and friends to not leave food out on the counter. Then, keep leftovers in the cupboards or the refrigerator.
Additionally, only feed your dog in its dinner bowl. This will reinforce the association food is in the bowl and not on the counter.
Positive Training to Stop Dogs from Stealing Food
If you have not done the behavioral support before now, you will need some drastic steps to discourage the behavior. In this case, punishment will rarely work and could actually backfire and start causing food aggression.
- Food Aggression is when your dog starts growling, barking, snapping or biting you or others when people approach their food. This often is the result of punishing dogs for stealing food and taking the food away from the dog.
To keep food aggression from happening, you will need to use positive dog training techniques to train your dog not to steal food.
When Anika Liljenwall, a behavior associate for the Peninsula Humane Society, was asked, she suggested:
Stuff a Kong toy with canned pumpkin, carrots, peanut butter, and broth-soaked dog food and freeze it overnight. The next day you will have a frozen treat that can keep Sweet Potato [the dog in question] occupied for hours, happily licking away the afternoon on her dog bed while your family feasts in peace.
I personally love the idea of stuffing a Kong, except I would not use anything Thanksgiving related. Carrots, pumpkin and broth may carry the same smell as items on the counter. This may prove enticing to your dog later in the day. Instead, stick to cheese, peanut butter, or the liver spray offered by Kong.
If you cannot watch your pet, then put your dog or cat in a safe spot. If your dog or cat is crate trained, then the crate is an awesome place for the pet to wait while you eat dinner.
You may want to put your pet in the backyard (if possible) or in another room, while you cook and eat. This will prevent any unauthorized feeding and will keep your pet safe during the holiday.
Use Other Training
This is where good obedience training comes in handy. If you have taught your dog “down” or to “go to your spot”, then this command is a quick and easy way to stop your dog from sniffing around the food.
Anytime you see your dog around the food, just move your dog to another location and put it in a “down.” If your dog has a place, then you don’t even have to move your dog. All you need to do is tell them to go to their place.