Counter Surfing

Photo by Keith Cannataro |


Put yourself in the dog’s paws and place your favorite food on the counter when you are hungry. Now walk past and see if you can resist taking a bite. The most realistic solution to counter surfing is to use a combination of management and training techniques to make it easy for your dog to avoid temptation.

Training Techniques:

  • Blocking access to places where food is left out by using baby gates or putting the dog in another room when you have company means there is no opportunity for your dog to fail.
  • If this is not a realistic option, you can try tethering your dog to you so that he is with you at all times.
  • If you are working in the kitchen and unable to use a baby gate, draw an imaginary line along the floor and teach your dog to stay behind that line.
  • To do this, you need to first teach a reliable 'Stay' cue so your dog understands what is expected of him.
  • If he crosses over the line, gently block him with your body until he goes behind the line again. If you reward him at intervals while he stays put, he will see this area as a good place to be.

How to Catch Your Dog In the Act of Stealing Food:

  • Put some food on the counter and then walk away to a place where you can see the food but where your dog thinks he is not being watched.
  • Pick up a magazine or pretend to be doing something else so he thinks you are not paying attention to him.
  • Wait for him to go up to the counter, and just before he jumps, ask him to 'leave it'.
  • If he backs away, praise him.
  • If he takes the food, calmly remove what is left and repeat the process, putting the food in a less accessible place to make it harder for him to be successful. When he is responding well, gradually move the food back to the place he previously took it from.
  • Start this exercise using low-value food before making it more difficult with the yummy stuff.

What Not To Do:
Some people use 'scat mats' to keep their dogs off of countertops and furniture. Although you may see short-term success in that your dog stays off the counter, the trauma of being shocked can cause emotional complications. Your dog may not want to come into the kitchen at all, and could even start having accidents in the house as a result of the stress and anxiety caused by being shocked.

Why Does My Dog Need to Know This?

  • Not only is counter surfing annoying for people, but it is also dangerous for dogs.
  • Stealing food can lead to ingesting plastic wrapping or eating food that is toxic to dogs.
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3 thoughts on “Counter Surfing

  1. Laura Rakestraw

    Any tips for a dog who has been reliable loose in the house in the past, and suddenly realized she can reach the counter? She wouldn't even think of trying it while I'm home, even when I'm asleep with the bedroom door shut, but when I leave all bets are off. She is crate trained and this is a fine solution when I won't be out of the house long, but I work three 12 hour shifts per week, and although I have someone come by to take the dogs out while I'm at work, I don't want to crate when she would end up confined for the better part of 13 hours three days in a row. Gating the kitchen isn't a good option with the layout of my apartment. Putting away all the food items is obviously necessary, but she also pulled down and chewed the top off my bottle of dish soap and I'm worried about her pulling down something that can hurt her. I'm fairly certain the issue is boredom (the dogs aren't distressed when I leave or overly excited when I return, and while both are prone to some anxiety-driven behaviors, separation anxiety has never been a problem), but leaving chews and toys and making sure they're exercised before I go doesn't seem to help. In fact sometimes going out of my way to do the right thing seems to cause an increase in the undesired behavior. She only seems to cause trouble AFTER the walker comes by in the middle of my shift, for instance, and if I give them chews when I leave it prompts her to seek out other entertainment after the chews are gone.

  2. Christi

    Maybe get one of those dog-cams with a microphone/speaker, set it up in the kitchen, leave the house and just go sit in the car/down the road, and wait until they approach the counter. She'd get the shock of her life, realising that you can still tell her off even when you're out! You can even get one that dispenses treats at the click of a button, so if she obeys you, you can praise her then and there.

  3. LIFE Dog Training

    Dr. Ian Dunbar with Sirius Dog Training has invented something called The Auto Trainer,
    It uses positive reinforcement by dispensing your dog's kibble throughout the day for actions such as staying quiet for a certain duration and settling down for certain amounts of time, and I believe it adjusts to increase the challenge as it detects your dog is gradually succeeding, which keeps it more interesting for the dog and continues to improve upon the wanted behaviors. It gives your dog something to focus on and work for in a calm way, like a stuffed Kong would, except it lasts longer and it is quicker to set up.

    Your girl would probably benefit also from additional training, maybe something like the voice camera suggested above, but something like this device might autoshape the behaviors you want in place of the one's she is doing now that you don't want. i.e. scavenging for food opposed to settling down or looking out the window without also barking; while maybe dealing with the root of the problem-boredom.

    Good luck with training,
    Caitlin Crittenden

    LIFE Dog Training

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