Dogs are keen observers and devious opportunists! It’s instinctive and how they survive when they are on their own. It’s also why dogs steal food — especially when unsuspecting children are the targets or adults are distracted, or better still, out of the room.
Dogs know that little people are easy pickings! Children are such a soft target for your dog’s hit-and-runs.
You may be a bit more of a challenge. However, a glance around the room to note the coast is clear, and your turkey sandwich is history!
Why your dog steals food
Your endearing, snack-snatching pooch is nothing more than a wolf in disguise. Like wolves, they have their pack. In your puppy or dog’s case, that’s you and your family.
Even though they have the cutest little faces and seem so innocent, their genes are screaming messages to survive; you must be a fearless hunter. That means you have to take risks now and then.
Your dog instinctively knows everyone has their place in a pack. When a pack shares a kill in the wild, those lower in status patiently wait to chew on the carcass. Most are happy with whatever scraps are left. Your little wolf learned this when they were nursing with their litter mates. They quickly figured out that the higher your status in the litter, the more you get to eat, is the rule.
So, your dog learned early to be bold and daring to get a full belly. Like sharp businesspeople, the wily members always weigh the benefit versus the cost. They will take the risk and make an unabashed leap for prime stuff if the odds appear more favorable. They will risk the wrath of the higher-ups. They will jump in at any and every opportunity to “snatch” a bite of whatever they can sink their teeth in. So your dog steals food, and it’s an entirely instinct.
Your dog quickly learns children are easy prey. If your dog is not taught manners and respects your child, they will consider them lower in pack status and be more than willing to take food when they have a chance.
Here’s how you prevent or modify inappropriate behavior: Your dog must learn to respect rules and boundaries. Positive reinforcement and punishment-free methods work! Enroll in an obedience training class that encourages the attendance of the entire family.
It teaches everyone how to define the pack order, so your dog understands as essential as they may think they are, they are now and will always be at the bottom of the pack.
“No free lunch!”
Never give treats without your dog doing something to earn it. Make them follow a simple command. It is a positive way to reinforce they must work for their rewards, and people are the provider of all good things… and that includes the little ones too!
Teach your children not to tease or “share” their food with their dog. That only encourages snatching.
Never feed your dog from the table! Dogs should not be allowed free rein near the table at mealtime. All it takes is a simple distraction, and your chicken leg goes!
Children often drop food where they eat… sometimes by accident, sometimes not so much! Or, children (and sometimes Grandpa) are easily persuaded into slipping a treat when no one is looking. Your dog quickly learns where there are free eats!
Teach rules and set boundaries
If you catch your dog in the light-fingered act, immediately correct them. You must let them know that it is unacceptable behavior when a dog steals food. If you can, take the object away from them.
Let them know the food belongs to you, and they must release or drop it.
If they have already swallowed it, let them know you are displeased by exiling and ignoring them. Give them a minute or three to associate their behavior has consequences. If there’s one thing puppy and dog hate, it’s being ignored.
Teach your dog the “LEAVE IT!” command. Place them in the sit position. Give the “LEAVE IT!” command with a treat in your hand. Do not allow them to touch it until you give a release command.
If your dog steals food, give them a no-reward maker, such as “EHH!” Make a firm correction, such as “NO! BAD!” Then, repeat the exercise until the dog understands they are not to touch the treat until released to do so.
If you have little or no control over your puppy or dog, consider enrolling in a positive reinforcement, punishment-free obedience class. It will help you learn the leadership skills you need and help your pet learn their place in your family in a fun way.
Bottom line: Teaching your puppy or dog not to snatch food is not difficult. If you are fair, firm, and consistent, they will make the association it is inappropriate behavior when a dog steals food.
Karen A. Soukiasian owns Good Dog! — Dog Training in St. Augustine, Florida. You can follow Karen on Facebook.