If you’ve had more than one meal ruined because your pup helped himself to a bite (or a chunk) of that night’s dinner, you are going to want to read this article.
Counter surfing is when your dog jumps up and steals food off the counter. Some dogs can make it all the way up onto your counter tops, while others are tall enough to just stand on their back legs and reach for the food with their front ones. There are 2 ways to stop it – environmental management and training.
Not only is it annoying to us (to say the least!), it can be dangerous to them. Dogs can get burned by hot food or hot plates, cut themselves on broken glass, get sick from eating too much or something that is dangerous. Eating a high fat meal can even lead to pancreatitis which, left untreated, can be deadly.
Why do dogs counter surf?
They’re looking for something yummy on the counter, they find it, so they keep looking/surfing. Each time they find food it reinforces why they go there in the first place, and it becomes a vicious circle. They seek, they find, so they keep seeking.
How do you punish a dog for stealing food?
You don’t. You should never punish your dog, you teach him good behavior by training.
Never set booby traps in the kitchen. Again, that is not the way to teach a dog anything, but can cause other behavior problems. Not to mention, are you really going to spend the rest of your dog’s life booby trapping the kitchen counter.
Here are some examples of what I mean…
♦ Filling cans with coins, marbles or rocks that when knocked over will startle your dog and stop him from eating. A variation of that is attaching a string to the cans that you pull off the counter when you see him about to pounce. Not sure why it’s a problem? Scaring your dog can have consequences, for example what if your dog becomes afraid when you drop your keys? Similar sounds right?
♦ Leaving food out laced with something bitter to put your dog off eating it. Aside from it not being a very nice thing to do, it’s doubtful it will prevent him from ever touching another plate of food.
♦ Using scat mats that emit a static pulse when your pet touches them. While it may stop him from reaching for the food, the trauma of being shocked can create a lot more problems. How about being too scared to go into the kitchen? What about the cruelty factor?
♦ Shock collars should also never be used, because causing your dog pain is cruel, and again will accomplish nothing other than your dog getting hurt, becoming fearful and aggressive.
Isn’t it better to find a more humane way to get your dog to stop unwanted behaviors? That humane way means rewarding the good behaviors you want to see.
There are two ways to stop dog counter surfing – environmental management and training
In other words, remove temptation.
Even if your dog is very well trained, knows leave it and drop it, and even to ignore food on the counter when you’re around, he will go for it when you’re not there. It’s just the way it is. One stroke of good fortune, and the behavior is pretty much established. Two strokes and it’s been reinforced.
The one thing guaranteed to work is to never leave food anywhere he can get his paws on it. Yes he’ll keep checking for a period of time, but when he sees there’s nothing there he will give up. But… If you slip up even once he will go back to surfing.
Wipe down the kitchen counters after cooking so there’s not even any food residue he can get a hold of. Believe it or not, crumbs will be enough to motivate many dogs to keep checking for more.
Have a chat with everyone in the house and make sure they’re all on the same page. No food on the counter or anywhere within reach.
If you have very deep counters and no way for your dog to actually jump onto them, you may be able to push the food as far back as possible and it will be safe. I say it’s still best to remove all temptation.
If, for whatever reason, food must at times be left on the counter, keep him out of the kitchen by closing the door or blocking access using baby gates.
Train your dog to go on his bed
♦ To start off, your dog should know the following commands – “leave it” “stay” and “down.”
♦ You must decide on a line (real or imagined) that your dog cannot cross. When you’re working in the kitchen or sitting down for a meal, teach your dog to stay/lie down on the nice comfy bed you have provided him with. It’s okay to leave it within visual range of all of you.
♦ It will take quite a bit of consistent practice to get him to stay on that bed. Who can blame him with all the delicious smells wafting his way! Be patient and you, or I should say he, will get it. Have no doubt, he will get up from that bed and make his way over to you. Whenever he does try and cross that “line” block him with your body and don’t let him pass. Keep sending him back to his bed.
♦ Don’t expect him to lie quietly without having that behavior acknowledged and rewarded, so throw him a few favorite treats every once in a while. They can be pieces of chicken, ham, cheese, vegetables – anything safe for your dog, meeting any dietary restrictions he may have. Because your goal is to make him stay on his bed, it is counterproductive to call him to come get the treat. You have to walk over to give it to him, or throw it onto his bed.
♦ At the beginning, give them quite regularly so he sees how great it is for him when he listens, but you will be able to reduce the frequency over time. Another option is a Kong or good quality dental bone to gnaw on.
Teach your dog “off”
An alternative to the above option is to teach him “off.” This will work if you’re in the kitchen with him and can see what he’s doing. If you’re all sitting down for dinner in another room, the above method is better. Having said that, it depends on the dog, so in your case this option may work well too!
♦ Every time he jumps onto the counter or even has his front paws on it, put a treat in front of his nose. Use something he really loves because it has to be better than what he’s after. When he’s paying attention, use that treat to guide him off the counter so all 4 paws are on the floor, saying “off” as he’s getting down. When all paws are on the ground give him a treat. If you clicker train, you would click at that moment then give the treat.
♦ Practice this for short periods a few times a day, to the point where all you have to do is say “off” and you won’t need the treat to lure him down. When he does listen give him tons of praise and a treat.
♦ Eventually you won’t have to give him a treat every time, but you can on the odd occasion.
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