PBGV GCh. Jodell Boogie Back To Texas free stacking (left), and 15-inch Beagle GCh. Belcanto Flags A'flyin showing off in the ring at Westminster 2012.

The adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” is exactly what comes to mind when I look at these two photos. What they convey to me is the difference between baiting and begging. Neither is right nor wrong, depending on the timing and situation, of course.

We train our show dogs to bait in the ring right? Well, when they aren’t free stacking during their examination, what exactly do you suppose is going through their minds – and not only at shows, but at home as well?

We all know food is a great tool to teach our show dogs how to bait, but where is that fine line between baiting and begging? This is a complex question, I know!

Some dogs are what we like to call “food motivated” all the time, while others are just food-motivated when in the ring. When we first train puppies, we more than likely use bait and toys as tools. The puppies are encouraged to walk on a lead, stack and free stack through a little bribery.

Initially when our dogs first start begging for food, we don’t think much of it. In fact, it’s pretty adorable. Who doesn’t want their dogs to do cute little tricks for a cookie or run around in circles before dinner? Unfortunately in the long run, this can become a serious problem. Once it gets to the point where the presence of food results in a dog whining or jumping excessively, that’s when we have to ask ourselves, “Has this gone too far?”

It’s always easier to blame your dogs’ behavior on someone or something else. In the end, of course, we are the ones to “blame.” I’m not implying that someone needs to be blamed, I’m just saying that sometimes we tend to under-think what we’re doing. We automatically reinforce these habits, and the begging-like behaviors escalate.

Look, I’m the first to admit my guilt, but sometimes I just can’t refuse those doe-eyed looks and cute tricks!

There’s nothing we love more than for our dogs to have that something extra in the ring. Being showy and loving to bait are things that can step up a dog’s performance in no time! But there’s a big difference between a dog having fun baiting and one that is a whining beggar.

Something that I’ve seen done at shows – that I believe is genius – is to have a special treat to use in the ring that the dog doesn’t receive on a normal basis. For example, if you go out to dinner and get steak, save a little extra to throw in the cooler to use the next day as your “secret weapon.” I’ve seen this work magnificently in the past, so if you haven’t tried it yet, go for it!

One of our jobs as dog owners is to differentiate that fine line between baiting and begging. Knowing the difference can ensure that our dogs are well-behaved, happy and healthy!

Don’t forget, Dogs Freakin’ Rule!