How to Train a Dog Not to Accept Food From Strangers

Depending on where you live, your dog may be at risk of being poisoned accidentally by a stranger trying to be friendly or intentionally by a criminal. 

The thing about dogs is that they can be indiscriminate eaters. However, studies have shown that several human foods may pose a serious threat to dogs, such as chocolate, onion, garlic, macadamia nuts, grapes, currants, and food items sweetened with xylitol.

When your dog is exposed to natural and man-made chemicals that are harmful for them, their gastrointestinal tract may be irritated and they will show clinical signs of toxicosis. Because not all people know which foods are unsafe for dogs, it is important to keep your dog protected by training them not to accept food from strangers.

In this article, we will provide a step-by-step guide on how to teach your dog to refuse food from a stranger.

Training Your Dog to Understand the “Leave It” Command

For some dogs, not accepting food from strangers comes naturally. However, if your dog is not one of them, don’t worry because you can train them using the “leave it” command.

  1. Hold the treat in one hand and let your dog sniff it. Say the “leave it” command and then close your hand. Dogs will react differently from this. Some will try to get it from your hand, some will sit and bark for you to give it the treat, while others will simply stare at your hand.
  2. When your dog stops focusing on your closed hand, praise it and give it a different treat from your other hand. The tasty treat and verbal praises are a form of positive reinforcement to encourage your dog to perform desired behaviors. Dog training through operant conditioning should be focused on providing positive reinforcement or rewards instead of punishment for it to be effective.
  3. Repeat the first two steps until your dog learns to leave your closed hand alone as soon as you say the “leave it” command.
  4. Now, it’s time to take the training to the next level. Instead of holding the treat in your hand, place it on the floor and let the dog sniff it. As soon as it does, quickly cover the treat and say the “leave it” command. 
  5. Again, when it stops focusing on the covered treat on the floor and looks at you, give it a treat with your other hand. 
  6. Repeat the last two steps as necessary,
  7. The next step is dropping a treat on the floor and saying the “leave it” command without covering the treat. If your dog goes for the treat, you need to start from the very first step.
  8. Once your dog has mastered the “leave it” command, your dog is ready to learn how not to accept food from strangers. What you can do is get some tasty treats that your dog really loves, and have someone who is a stranger to your dog walk by and toss it.
  9. If your dog comes near it and smells it, say the “leave it” command before your dog even starts to eat. Remember, if you are not 100% confident that your dog will respond to the “leave it” command every time, it is recommended to perform this exercise while your dog is on a leash. 
  10. Repeat this simple exercise until you are confident that it will not eat the food from a stranger when you are close. 
  11. Taking the training a notch further, go inside your house where you can see when the stranger tosses the bait. If your dog goes to smell the food, yell the “leave it” command. When done properly, the dog will assume that you are always watching and will refuse food from strangers even without the “leave it” command.

Final Thoughts

Training your dog can be challenging– you need to dedicate your time and have a lot of patience. Understand that dogs learn at different paces– some dogs might require more time than others. Nevertheless, training your dog not to accept food from strangers is definitely worth it.

If you think you don’t have the spare time, patience, or skills to successfully train your dog, the best thing that you can do is to have a professional dog trainer teach your pet this important skill. 

At Delaware K9 Academy, you can trust that our expert dog trainers only implement ethical and effective dog training strategies. We offer puppy training, two-week dog training bootcamps, and private sessions depending on your dog’s needs and your goals for them. 

Not sure where to start? Get in touch with us today so we can help you explore your options and choose the right type of dog training for your pet.