It will always remain a sensitive personal and social issue when dogs are found loitering around, begging or eating at the breakfast, lunch or dinner table.
As recent as five decades ago it was almost unheard of to encounter animals in the house unless it was a caged bird, reptile or a fish in a tank or bowl. Dogs and cats used to be kept outdoors and hardly ever crossed the threshold of the back door.
Now that people suffer much more than ever before from heightened insecurity, depression or anxiety in a deprived and confined domestic environment they depend much more on their pet cats and dogs for unconditional companionship, vigilant attention and non-judgmental beneficial relationships.
This human-animal bond brings pet owner and dog closer together. Cats might be gallivanting at night but sleep inside the house during the day, and dogs, in general, now live mostly indoors sharing their owner’s bed, lounge suite in front of the television and hang around the table at mealtimes. Sharing one’s den is one of the greatest privileges that can be bestowed upon familiar or unfamiliar company.
When dogs loiter around the dinner table they are stimulated by the activity of the entire family congregated at one site as well as the highly attractive odour of food. Whilst people do not hover over their dogs when they eat it is very disconcerting for visitors to have to tolerate dogs begging and crowding them while they are trying to eat and socialize.
Any dog sitting on its haunches staring at the humans gorging themselves at the table has to engender the height of curiosity in the dog’s mind. The canine senses are so sensitive and sharp that they can fully comprehend all the sounds people make while eating and the smells from the array of food as being of great intensity and close to delectable paradise. When dogs start begging and salivating around the table with their focused and anthropomorphically cute expressions most weak people will reward this unacceptable bad behaviour by giving the dog food. Once this ludicrous move is made the begging dog is rewarded for being a nuisance and a serious precedent has been set.
Once the pets have tasted delicious cuisine the incentive to continue waiting around becomes all the more tempting. Many animals can be fixated for hours expecting the situation to change in their favour. They have all the time in the world and have the patience of Job. Unfortunately, human character, stamina and will-power hardly exist these days to withhold food a poor starving animal. Some people claim they feed them because they love them. Some believe that they beg because they are hungry and their scientifically balanced nutrition is boring. Others do it because they get a thrill from feeding animals – any animals – with some people it is a vocation for which they were placed on this earth; to feed the birds in the garden, the feral cats at the factory, their pets at home – a form of displaced obsession.
When dogs, and sometimes cats, are conditioned to associate the table with the pleasantries of food morsels they will make every attempt to climb up on a chair and jump on the table to steal even the entire Sunday roast if that is all that is available and easily accessible. People become irate when they find the animals on the table licking at the butter in the dish or cleaning the plates with their tongue. If people train their pets to beg they must accept the multiple consequences of their actions. It is unfair to punish animals when the owners are to blame for allowing and reinforcing the begging and thus the stealing of food.
When people wake up to the idea that they no longer wish to feed their pets at the table the response from the dog can be pawing at people’s feet and hands, barking or running around the table looking for a weak giving person.
In the first place, dogs should never be in the house when people are eating. When there are visitors who are either not pet-friendly or object to animals patrolling while they are eating it is highly discourteous of the animals’ owners to place their guests in such an uncomfortable predicament. There is also the disturbance created by lingering pets. Often the pet owners will ignore a discussion or a directed conversation to turn around or look down at their pet in order to respond to their demands.
This is one of the most effective ways of losing friends and respect.
Some cultures take exception to the presence of dogs and cats at the table and this should be respected and the necessary preventative steps taken.
Many people express concern about the hygiene of animals on and around the table. Who knows what the dog or cat has just licked, chewed or eaten in the garden and now they are licking the guests’ hands while people are trying to eat with their cutlery. If one understands this from a veterinary and scientific point of view one would have the regular de-worming of the pets as a priority. This should be coupled with regular dental scaling and polishing to render their busy mouths as aseptic as possible.
The amount and type of food offered to begging pets is of veterinary significance. A dog suffering from pancreatic disease may end up in intensive care fighting for its life if it is fed some spicy foods.
When dogs are let in to the lounge while people are having tea and scones and the dog proceeds to lean over the confectionery and sniff what is on the plates many people can be deterred or repulsed from eating then or visiting again. Tolerance may be the order of the day if the dog owner commanded the dogs to go into a down and stay-position, settle down and keep quiet, but then very few people know how to control their pets so the chances are close to never.
It is a personal choice but when socializing with people, pet owners should be sensitive and respectful towards their guests. Pet owners should be cognitive of the consequences of their actions by permitting animals to hang around while people are eating and even more aware of the behaviour problems which may develop as a result of tasting forbidden fruits.
When having a braai or any form of catering outdoors then the shoe may be on the other foot, regarding human and dog interaction. Outdoors the dog owner has to be extra-cautious and vigilant when there are chop bones and T-bones circulating amongst guests. Guaranteed there will be someone who will want to prove publicly that they love animals and will back this up as an animal welfare gesture by giving a dog a bone. This knick-knack paddy-wack may very well be the cause of enormous expense to surgically remove a highly painful bone obstruction at a veterinary hospital or it may be the cause of death of a pet dog.
If you truly care about your dogs under these circumstances then it is wise to board them at a veterinary practice or a boarding kennel to keep them out of harm’s way for the duration of the festivity. Making an announcement to all the guests not to feed your dogs bones may be heeded, in most cases, but when human blood alcohol levels rise the compliance and responsibility drops directly proportional to the amount of intake. When all the guests have disappeared one has to clean sweep the garden, lawn and beds to ensure that bone fragments have not been flicked all over the property. Any piece of bone will be easily detected and retrieved by any dog within minutes. If you are uncertain, place the dogs on leads and let them search for you, on their return, and as soon as they recognize the discarded morsel you can quickly take it away from them and reward with an acceptable titbit.
The act of feeding or rewarding dogs for begging at the table is guaranteed to teach pets to steal food off the table, particularly when the area is unsupervised. Then you will not know where the dog’s nose, mouth and feet have been as they may have tasted certain items and not found them tasty enough. If you are comfortable with this arrangement it is purely your preference and creation but please do not invite me over – I do not eat my dogs’ food and, by the same token, I do not want your dog to eat my food.