People Food” over Pet Food – The Classic Canine Preference

“My dog doesn’t really like people food.” In my 40+ years on Earth, I’ve heard this statement maybe once or twice. Why? Because 99.9999% OF DOGS ADORE PEOPLE FOOD (an unscientific, but an ultimately verifiable fact). Put a slice of pizza, a T-bone steak, a PB&J sandwich, or even a bowl of plain lettuce near a dog, and watch the begging and/or drooling commence.

Dogs have personalities as varied as people, and it’s no surprise that their desire for food would vary. However, it seems that dogs are hard-wired to eat – their food AND ours. Throughout my life, I’ve enjoyed living with dogs who’ve exhibited different levels of interest in food.

My heart dog, Sam, lived with my family while I was in high school and early college. Sam was practically perfect, especially during snack time and mealtime.

Because of the questionable furniture stylings of the 1970s and 1980s, my family had a HUGE coffee table that was only about 18″ high (the perfect height for a dog to snatch food and make a quick getaway). Our first dog, Suzy the Border Collie mix, enjoyed numerous free snacks from the too-low table. But not Sam. Sam would leave food alone, unless he was specifically invited to partake. In fact, I remember leaving an entire pizza on the table while I went to the kitchen to get something, and returning to find Sam standing guard rather than gorging himself. 20+ years later, this still impresses me.

Sam also enjoyed being invited to sit at our picnic table. We knew he wouldn’t steal food from the table, so we occasionally invited him to sit on the bench with us while we ate. He didn’t drool, he didn’t beg, and he didn’t whine. He just sat there…happy to be with his “pack.” And because he was always a good dining companion, he occasionally got to finish an ear of corn or lick a paper plate clean.

The strangest thing about Sam’s behavior was that no one in my family expressly forbade him from eating people food. We undoubtedly stopped him from stealing some food item when he was a puppy, but no one remembers actually training this behavior away. Plus, he LOVED treats. Sam passed away in 2002, and I miss him every day.

My dogs since Sam have exhibited more “dog-like” behavior when it comes to food. Bert & Ernie, Sheltie brothers, gleefully eat ANYTHING (including dangerous non-food items, but that’s another story). One Christmas, Bert helped himself to every cookie he could reach on the outer edge of the dining room table, and Ernie arguably LIVES for bread products. No food in their reach is safe (a fact we learned the hard way).

My most recent dog, Wrigley, a Yellow Lab/Golden Retriever mix, will also do just about anything for food. And since he’s tall, he frequently counter-surfs. Since I grew up with short dogs, I forgot this on more than one occasion and came home to find empty foil wrappers, plastic bags, and cardboard boxes strewn about the house. His latest “naughtiness” involved helping himself to two HUGE cheese-filled breadsticks cooling on the counter. Thankfully he didn’t eat all 6. I’ve learned that I have to be “smarter than the dog” and remember to put all food out of reach.

Wrigley is also an “in-your-face” dog during mealtimes. Thankfully, I’ve tempered this bad etiquette by putting him on “place” – a comfortable dog cot he’s expected to lay or sit on while people around him eat.

A Lesson from Every Dog

A dog’s food motivation can be both a blessing (during training or an emergency) and a curse (during everything else). I’ve learned that living with a food-obsessed dog definitely presents challenges, but teaching good canine manners and adjusting food presentation and storage can make cohabitation much easier. I firmly believe Sam was the exception to the rule when it comes to dogs and food. Perhaps I’ll get lucky enough to have a food-ignorer once again, but if not, I’ll be sure never to leave any plate (or bag or box) unattended.

What is your dog’s relationship with food? Do you share your life with a drooling foodie or a best friend who’s indifferent to people’s food? Share your story in the comments section below.