In order to achieve polite puppy dinner behavior, you first have to define it. For example, I consider it polite in my household if my four dogs lie quietly at our feet while we eat. If they don't beg, bark, whine or otherwise nudge us for treats, they get an occasional treat from our dinner.
You may, on the other hand, prefer to teach Sparky to lie on a dog bed on the other side of the room during meals. A tether's your ideal management tool for this. Help your puppy acclimatize to being on the tether outside of mealtime so you won't have to constantly interrupt your meals to train. This shouldn't take more than one or two practice sessions. Meanwhile, use a crate or baby gate to confine your pup so you can have relaxed, puppy-free meals.
When Sparky has learned to accept tethering, set up his tether in the dining room away from the table, a distance that's comfortable for you and at least far enough so the dog won't be tripped over as the family moves around the table. Prepare a treat-dispensing toy or other interactive toy to keep him happy while you eat.
Occasionally, when your pup is relaxed and quiet, calmly praise him, and walk over to feed him a treat. In short order you can fade out the treats and Sparky will be content to share meals with you at a respectable distance. Eventually, the polite dinner habit will be so well-ingrained, you won't even need the tether.
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It's normal for puppies to pick up everything with their mouths – that's how they explore the world. You can make life easier for you and your pup if you do a good job of management – basically, keep non-chew objects out of your pup's reach. Inevitably, however, Sparky will find a forbidden object, such as a book or a shoe; something of value to you; or something that might harm him.
When Sparky does find a forbidden object, your first instinct will be to run after him and grab it away, telling him he's a bad pup - but stop - that's the worst thing you can do. Plus, it's a great way to teach him a delightful game of canine keep-away (from his puppy perspective). Instead, be proactive. Teach Sparky to give objects to you on cue. Then, when he grabs something inappropriate, just slip into training mode and ask him to “give.”
To teach give, offer Sparky a toy that he likes to play with. When he's happily playing, offer him a treat. As he drops the toy to take the treat, say “give” and feed him the treat. Then toss the toy for him to play with again. What a cool game – Sparky gets the yummy treat and he gets to chase the toy again!
After a few repetitions, start saying “give” first, then offer the treat in trade for the toy. With practice, he'll learn to drop the toy on the give cue, and you can treat randomly – but sometimes, not always, eventually stopping the treats altogether with just using praise.
(Look for Part 4 next week)