My neighbors moved away and could not take their dog with them. We took Buster in with us. He is a five or six-year-old lab mix. Buster took to his new surroundings very well. He is housebroken, very gentle and obedient. All in all, he’s a very nice dog and we are happy with him, except when it’s supper time when he is at the table just waiting for table scraps. No matter where he is in the house, if we open the fridge door, he shows up. We assume he did this with his previous owners. Can we teach this old dog new tricks?
— Dave, Lynbrook N.Y.
You bet you can. No matter what age, dogs love to learn, and Buster sounds like a ready student. Even if you never hand him another table scrap, Buster’s mental map won’t let him forget someone once gave him a tasty treat from the table or fridge.
The trick is to replace the old behavior with an entirely new behavior and his love of treats will come in handy here. For example, when he shows up at the table during meal time, stand up, point your right arm and finger over his body and in the direction that you want him to go, and say the word “out.” You may have to take a few steps towards him to move him in the right direction.
Once he complies and is where you want him, ask Buster to “sit,” “down,” and “stay” where he can still see you. Then give him a dog treat for complying. Initially, you may have to do this several times during a meal for several weeks until he completely understands what you want. He should eventually take his position just outside the dining room when meal time occurs because he knows that is where he will get his treat. Give him a treat after dinner too when he learns to not beg anymore.
The same technique can be done to keep him out of the kitchen too. Just always remember to mark the behavior with a marker word, like “bingo,” or a “click” from a clicker, and then give him a treat. Be consistent over the next few weeks and I promise he will learn what you expect from him.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal