One of the most common things dog owners ask for help with is counter surfing. You’re not alone if you’re already familiar with it! The upward-turned, sniffing nose going along the edge of the kitchen counter waiting for you to turn your back, or worse, paws up on the counter gobbling down food when you’re cooking or entertaining friends.
Remember, dogs repeat behaviors that work. In other words, your dog is going to choose to do the behavior that is getting her a result that she wants. Dogs steal from the counter because there’s a big payoff. They keep trying it because occasionally it works!
Nip the Bad Habit in the Bud
Here are 6 ways you can prevent counter surfing:
- Increase exercise. A tired dog is a good dog! If your dog is exhausted she’ll be less likely to look for ways to entertain herself and more likely to lay happily in her bed while you prepare dinner. A good goal is three 15 minute sessions of hard aerobic exercise daily in addition to daily walks.
- Provide enrichment on the floor. If all the good stuff is up on the counter, your dog will be curious about what’s up there. If all the good stuff is down on the floor, she’ll be more motivated to stay on the floor. Before you start preparing food, give her a new pig’s ear, bully stick or marrow bone to chew. Or use puzzle toys like the Kibble Nibble or Kong Wobbler (I can tell you more about these) to keep her entertained.
- Strengthen the ‘Leave It’ behavior. Place an object on the edge of the counter and practice the basic exercise (also learned and developed in Basic Good Manners class.) When she backs away, praise her and then redirect her onto something appropriate – a food toy, a chew item, or a game of fetch or tug.
- Use the cues ‘Go To Mat’, ‘Down’ and ‘Stay’. Teaching your dog to go to her place and stay there is a very useful training tool. Dogs learn this skill in Intermediate class.
- Keep the counters clear when possible. Easier said than done, right?! But the effort is worth it. If your dog starts surfing, it’s important that she not succeed in getting anything. If she can’t smell anything good up there she’ll be less likely to try.
- Prevent entry into the kitchen. Use baby gates or make a tether station to keep your dog securely out of the way while you cook. You can make a tether station by tying her leash to the leg of a heavy piece of furniture and clipping it to her collar. Give her a bed and something to chew on. Never leave a tethered dog unattended.
What to do if you catch your dog in the act?
If you see her near the counter with her nose in the air, you can intervene with the Leave It cue. But if you catch her with her paws on the counter, you have 2 options:
- Use a time out. Say “Time Out” and gently take her by her collar and lead her to the time out area, usually a nearby bathroom will suffice. There should not be anything fun to do in the bathroom like ripping up the toilet paper. Time Out should be isolating and boring. It only needs to last 30-45 seconds.
- Say “Leave It.” If she gets down, say “Yes” and give her praise or a treat when her feet hit the floor. (If she complies with your request, you cannot then give a time out.) If you ask her to Leave It and she does not get down, gently push her off by putting your hand on her chest. Say “yes” when her feet hit the floor and praise or treat her.
Several of the above strategies are best used after learning them in training classes. You and your canine companion can brush up on the basics, or learn them for the first time, in Basic Good Manners. Or contact me to see what class is best for you.
Be patient and consistent in implementing these strategies to prevent counter surfing. If your dog has been a successful counter surfer for a while it will take time and consistent training for her behavior to change.
Valerie Balwanz PMCT, CPDT-KA, Pampered Pets Lead Trainer