Counter surfing may sound like the latest internet craze, but it is actually a behavior that sends a lot of dog parents crazy. There is little worse than placing food on your kitchen counter, turning your back for a few seconds, and returning only to find the food has miraculously disappeared. Your perfect pooch is sat innocently by the counter, the only sign of their misdeeds being the drawl that is hanging from their chops.
It doesn’t take a world-famous detective to determine what has just happened. You have been the victim of a counter surfing dog. Does this sound familiar to you? The good news is that there are several ways of reducing counter surfing, and with the right training tips, you can even stop it altogether.
What Is Counter Surfing?
When a dog jumps up onto the kitchen counter to steal food that is counter surfing. Taller dogs tend to jump up and place only their front paws on the counter and lean in to reach the tasty treats that they are after. Smaller dogs, who have a harder time reaching kitchen counters, may employ a range of tactics to reach your kitchen counters. This may include using other furniture, such as stools to jump from or simply leaping up and placing all four paws on the counter, giving them free access to all the treats that you had lined up for your dinner.
Why Do Dogs Counter Surf?
Dogs are opportunists that think with their stomachs; if they can see an easy way to get a quick snack, then they will take it. The morsels that you leave on your kitchen counter are simply irresistible to the average canine. Once your dog has succeeded in raiding your kitchen counter for the first time, they will try again, and again. If the behavior is reinforced or rewarded, then your kitchen counters may never be safe again. The keys to stopping this behavior are ensuring that there is nothing left on the counters from them to eat and preventing them from jumping at the counter. Both these elements are achievable in numerous ways.
Preventing Your Canine Companion Counter Surfing
As with most things in life, the most straightforward solutions to counter surfing are the best. Your dog only counter surfs because they know there is an easy meal waiting for them. Therefore, the most straightforward answer to counter surfing is prevention – managing the situation so that your dog does not have access to any food on your kitchen counters. Some of the ways you can achieve this include:
- Never leaving food on kitchen counters – if there is no food on the counter when your dog jumps up, then there is no reward for their effort.
- Keeping your countertops clean – cleaning immediately after cooking ensures that there are no tasty morsels or scraps. It also prevents delicious patches, stains, or spills that your dog might find just a rewarding to lick.
- Crating your dog during food preparation and cooking. It can be difficult to watch all your surfaces at once while you are cooking and is nearly impossible to keep everything out of your pet pooches reach. Given this, crating your dog or restricting access to the kitchen with a baby gate, could be the best answer.
All the above tips focus on changing the environment to help avoid counter surfing by reducing the potential rewards of such behavior. However, dogs are crafty creatures, and sometimes managing the environment is just not enough of a deterrent. This is why it is also essential to teach your dog not to counter surf. There are three key ways to stop a dog from counter surfing, and these include the ‘leave it’ method, the ‘get off’ command, and the special place routine.
Using ‘Leave It’ to Stop Counter Surfing Behaviors
‘Leave it’ is a useful cue for stopping counter surfing behaviors. The process encourages your dog to leave what you don’t want them to have (or do) and to leave the area for somewhere less tempting. The ‘leave it’ training approach is simple, but as with all dog training, it takes patience and perseverance. It is also worth noting that instead of the command ‘yes’ you can use a dog clicker instead if you prefer.
- Place a treat in each hand and hold your hands behind your back.
- Take one hand out from behind your back, cover the treat by forming a fist, and offer that hand to your dog to sniff.
- Use the command ‘leave it.’ Wait for your dog to stop sniffing; once they stop, say ‘yes’ and offer the treat from your other hand.
- Continue with this part of the process until your dog stops sniffing immediately on being given the command ‘leave it.’ Once they have achieved this, they are ready for the next step.
- You need access to two different treats that your dog likes – one that they want more than the other. Leash your dog. Keeping their favorite treat back for the moment, toss the other treat so that it lands outside of your dog’s reach. Use the command ‘leave it.’ Wait until your dog stops pulling towards the treat and sniffing.
- Once the behaviors stop say ‘yes’ and give them the other treat; the one they like more than the one you tossed away. Repeat steps five and six until your dog stops pulling immediately the ‘leave it’ command is given.
It is crucial that the treats that you use as rewards are extremely tasty; ideally, ones that your dog loves. The success of the process hinges on your dog learning that the reward for listening is greater than the potential reward on your kitchen counter. For this reason, using human food as a training treat is not advisable as it may cause confusion.
Using ‘off’ to Stop Counter Surfing Behaviors
While ‘leave it’ is an excellent approach for preventing counter surfing, ‘off’ is best used for correcting the behavior of dogs who regularly turn your kitchen counters into their own private buffet. As with our previous process, it involves rewarding the behavior you want to encourage.
- When your dog jumps on the kitchen counter place a treat in front of their nose to distract them from their search. Once you have their attention, lure them off the counter and onto the floor using the treat and the command ‘off.’
- As soon as their feet touch the floor, say ‘yes’ and give them the treat.
- Once you have practiced this several times, revert to using just the command ‘off.’ Once they are off the kitchen counter, say ‘yes,’ praise and reward them with the treat.
- If your dog does not respond to just the verbal command ‘off,’ then go back to using the treat as a lure until they connect the action of jumping off the counter with the command ‘off.’
Remember, dogs all learn at their own pace. While one might get the command straight away, another will take longer, or may even need a different approach. Patience and consistency are among the keys to success.
Another training option is to teach your dog to go to their bed whenever you are preparing or cooking food. Using this approach means that you do not need to stop what you are doing to redirect your dog’s attention when you are up to your elbows in food prep. To using this training method, follow these steps.
- Before you start, you need to determine what verbal cue or command you are going to use alongside your dog’s treats. The simplest and most straightforward is ‘bed.’
- Toss some treats on your dog’s bed or sleeping area. When they investigate the treats, use the cue ‘yes.’
- Once you have done this several times, your dog will probably start investigating their bed or sleeping area without any treats. At this stage, introduce the cue you decided on in step one, and then when they get to the bed, say ‘yes’ and reward with treats.
Countering Counter Surfing When You Are Not Present
Your training may work perfectly when you are present, but there is no guarantee that your perfect pooch won’t try to reach a cheeky titbit when you leave the room. The best way to avoid this is to ensure that everything is completely covered and out of reach. Ideally, block off access to the kitchen when you are not present. This avoids exploratory counter raids and the need for you to find new and higher hiding places for your fresh cookie batches.