How to Stop Your Dog from Counter Surfing
Has your dog ever stolen food from your plate or off the kitchen counter? That is called counter surfing. While it may be fun for your pup, it can be very frustrating for you and your guests. But don't despair. Your dog's not trying to be mean or rebellious. He just needs some gentle and persistent training. The best dog counter surfing deterrents encourage a different behavior that ends up being more rewarding. Your dog's instinct to sneak food may be strong, but with consistent training, patience, and understanding, you can stop him from counter surfing.
Counter Surfing Is Instinctual
"Counter surfing" refers to any time a dog jumps up to a table or a kitchen counter and tries to steal food. Typically, she'll get on her back paws when you're not looking, check out your countertops, and grab some food for a tasty snack.
When your dog grabs food from the counter, she's not trying to be mean or rebellious. She's simply acting out of instinct.1 As a scavenger, it's perfectly natural for a dog to feel like she needs to take advantage of food that's left out. So, you'll need to put time into rewarding and reinforcing different behaviors to counteract her instincts.
Not only is counter surfing annoying to you, it can be dangerous to your pup's health if she gets into any human foods that are unsafe for dogs. It's definitely worth the time to teach your dog to stay away from counters.
Remove the Temptation
First, you need to remove the temptations and any of its associations. This means you want to avoid feeding your dog in the kitchen if you can help it. Try not to create the association that the counter is a good place to get food. If you grab food off the counter and give it to your dog, you create an association that might be tough to break.
You also want to make it less easy to get the food. This could mean not leaving food sitting on the counters, especially if you're not there. You might even need to crate your dog while you cook to lessen the temptation.
Teach Your Dog an Alternative Behavior
You'll want to train your dog to follow a specific command while you're cooking (or at any other time when food is on the counter). This might be a command like "sit," "go to your bed," or "stay out." Start by teaching the command when there's no food around, then advance to less tempting food, and so on.
This alternative behavior is typically more successful than punishing your dog. He'll feel excited about the chance to get a treat, which is a better motivator than the fear of punishment.2
Look for other opportunities to motivate him too. If you're using "go to your bed," then send him to a comfy dog bed that he loves. If he likes warm spots, try a self-warming dog bed. Or keep a favorite chew toy on the mat that he's being trained to sit on.
Try Clicker Training
Some dog owners have a lot of success with clicker training when other kinds of training don't work as well. This is another form of teaching an alternative behavior, but it uses a clicker to help the dog focus better on the correct action.3
Start out by noticing when your dog lies on a mat, then make the clicker noise and give your dog a treat. After that, you can teach your dog to go to the mat for longer periods of time, waiting to click and treat until he's been at the mat for 30 seconds or longer. Next, teach your dog to go to the mat when you have food in the kitchen. Then teach your dog to stay on the mat when you're out of the room.
You can use the same idea for teaching commands like "stay out" by employing invisible boundaries.4 Some dogs simply learn better when reinforced with a clicking sound.
Remember: your dog isn't counter surfing because she's trying to be rebellious or make you mad. She's simply having a tough time resisting her natural instincts. Good training can help. You just have to find what motivates your dog. If you're having a tough time establishing a good dog counter surfing deterrent, consider working with a trainer. A little outside help can really make a difference.
- Madson, Cathy. "How to Stop Your Dog from Counter Surfing." Preventive Vet, 8 March 2019, https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/how-to-stop-your-dog-from-counter-surfing.
- Donovan, Liz. "How to Prevent Your Dog from Counter-Surfing." AKC, 13 August 2015, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/how-to-prevent-dog-from-counter-surfing/.
- Bindoff, Aidan. "How to Put an End to Counter Surfing." Karen Pryor Clicker Training, 12 November 2019, https://www.clickertraining.com/how-to-put-an-end-to-counter-surfing.
- Crestejo, Kristin. "How to Teach Your Dog an Invisible Border." YouTube, 6 October 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pifKC3DJ1aA.