Granny slips scraps to the dog, complains of begging

Dear Labby,

My grandmother is staying with us for the next few months and she’s not very fluent in dog lingo. When she eats her breakfast of toast on the couch, my dog usually sits nearby to hunt for crumbs. My grandmother constantly gets upset saying that my dog is begging for food, and yet she sneaks pieces of toast to my dog although we tell her not to.

I have been trying to teach my dog not to stare at my grandmother while she eats, but how can I properly teach him when he gets rewarded for doing what my grandmother says she hates? I know my grandmother won’t change, but how can I help my dog make sense of the conflicting signals he’s receiving from us?

Signed:

Tricky Oldster Actively Sneaks Tasty Edibles to Dog

Speaking of sneaking, T.O.A.S.T.E.D., you slipped a training question in to my petiquette column! The milk bone doesn’t fall far from the tree…

As a manners maven and not a behaviorist, I can only take you so far. Contact a positive-reinforcement based trainer for direction. In the meantime, my solution: Condition your dog to associate your grandmother’s toast-on-the-sofa ritual with snack time in another room for him. As soon as Granny heads to the living room, break out the top-tier pup treats in the kitchen.

Does your dog know the command “come”? If so, use it – and if not, train it. When he runs dutifully to your side, reward him with the good stuff. Follow up with a chew toy or stuffed kong to keep him occupied while Toastess with the Mostess finishes breakfast.

Now for the etiquette piece:

It’s true, your grandmother may not change. But if she truly hates it when your dog sits and stares at her while she eats, she needs an explicit explanation as to why this happens (she’s rewarding the dog for an undesirable behavior) – and a clear solution as to how to make it stop (stop slipping the pooch toast bits!). If that sounds harsh, well, you may just want to butter her up a bit beforehand…