Counter surfing is one of those behaviors in pets that are either downright amusing or annoying. For individuals watching YouTube videos of these canine exploits, “stealing” food on the counter may be fun to watch. For the home cook who toiled several hours making the dish, counter surfing is a frustrating canine behavior. If you want to put a stop to the dog’s counter surfing activities, then you need these tips.
Avoid Punishing the Dog as a Means to Stop the Behavior
Some pet parents punish the dog for counter surfing. While some may find success in putting a stop to the unwanted behavior, it does not teach the dog the kind of behavior that you would want it to display. When you punish a dog, they become fearful. Unfortunately, they do not associate their “fear” with the unwanted behavior. They associate their fear or anxiety with you. They know that you are upset, angry, disappointed, embarrassed, or hurt. But, they do not know why. All they know is that you are mad at them and that is why they get punished.
Since dogs associate this fear or anxiety with the person causing it, then they may avoid this person altogether. Some dogs may also consider their owners a threat. They will try to avoid you as much as they can. As such, when you punish a dog for counter surfing, you may not realize that the animal is already beginning to fear you. It may also not find you worthy of its trust anymore.
Adhere to the Use of More “Pleasant” Experiences to Stop Counter Surfing
Training techniques that provide more pleasant experiences for the dog are more effective. Not only do they put a stop to the unwanted behavior, they can also strengthen the relationship between the owner and the pet.
Yummy dog treats work best when it comes to providing a more pleasant experience for dogs. After all, food is the reason why they are sniffing and snooping on the counter. The treats should always be a lot better than their ordinary meal. This helps ensure a more positive experience, something that the dog will appreciate more.
What is critical in positive reinforcement is the timing of the cue and the issuance of the treat. It should always be the cue first before giving the treat. This way, the dog will learn to associate the treat with the cue. The cues can be either verbal like “leave it” or “stay” or any other “command” that you can think of. It is, however, crucial to use only one verbal cue throughout the duration of the training.
Most pet parents find success using a clicker. This replaces the verbal cue. When a dog hears the sound of the clicker, it knows that a treat is coming.
Training dogs using positive reinforcement takes time. As such, perseverance and patience are critical. One also has to recognize the fact that some dogs are easier to train than others. Some may “get” what you’re trying to teach them the first time. Others may require several sessions before they “get” it.
In addition to patience, it is best to keep the training sessions short. Five minutes of training are often enough. You can always train the dog again at a later time of the day. It is better to adhere to short, but more frequent training sessions than having it all in one go. This maximizes information retention while minimizing canine boredom.
Teach the “Leave It’ Command
Teaching your pet to leave the food on the counter is easy. You will need a magic word or a verbal cue to help teach it. Many pet parents use “leave it”.
Place a treat in one of your hands and show it to the pet. The pet’s natural reaction will be to go to the hand. As soon as you notice the dog showing interest in the treat, say “leave it” and close your hand. This prevents the dog from ever getting the treat.
The dog may try to nibble or lick at your hand. Do not open your hand. It will stop sooner or later. The moment it stops and pulls away from your hand, activate the clicker and praise your dog. Reach for another treat from your pocket or pouch with your other hand and give this to the dog. Never ever give the treat that you have in your closed hand.
Do this a couple of times before you start increasing the wait time. It is best to increase it by about 3 to 5 seconds and work your way until the dog can wait a few minutes for its treat. Once it has shown mastery of waiting for the treat for several minutes, you can increase the distance between you and the dog. Leave the treat on the floor, but make sure it is near enough for you to cover it with your hand if in case the dog goes for the treat.
The last phase in this training is for you to drop the dog treat on the floor. Say “leave it”. Be ready to cover the treat with your foot in case the pet tries to snatch it. After a few minutes of waiting, give the dog its yummy treat. Use another treat and not the one on the floor.
You can then practice this method with other items, such as dog toys. Over time, whenever you tell your dog to leave something, it will.
For more options head over to our guide on Dog Whistles.
Teach the Dog to Go to Its Place
In addition to the “leave it” command, you can also teach the dog to go to its place if you do not want it to snoop on the counter. For this to work, your pet should already know how to respond to the “down” command. If not, you may have to start with it.
Stand near the mat, rug, bed, or crate that you want the dog to stay on whenever you ask it to. Say “mat” or “place” and use a dog treat to lure the pet to this area. The moment all of the dog’s feet are in place, click the clicker or praise the dog. At the same time, reward the dog with the treat. Most dogs will already know that they should lie down whenever they are on the mat. If not, then issue the command “down”.
Like training the dog the “leave it” command, you can then increase the time between the dog’s response to the command and the giving of the dog treat. Again, it is best to start with increments of a few seconds until your dog can stay in its place for several minutes.
Try this in other rooms as well to help reinforce the behavior.
Remove “Reinforcers” on Your Kitchen Counter
If you are not well-versed in the training of dogs or you do not have time to train them, then you may want to remove the “reinforcers” of the behavior. Since dogs surf the counter because they sense the presence of food, removing food items on the counter can put a stop to the behavior. Do not leave leftover food on the counter or the dining table. If you are consistent with this, then the dog will know that there is no use hopping on the counter. There is no food there to scavenge.
Teach the other members of the household to never leave food on the counter. This will help reinforce the notion that there isn’t any resource in this part of the home that is valuable to the dog. It also helps to maintain the cleanliness of the kitchen. Spills can leave food odors on the counter. Dogs have a great sense of smell. They can still sense these odors and prompt them to sniff around.
Remove Access to the Kitchen
There will always be instances when you’re not around and the dog has the kitchen all to itself. There is no one to tell it to leave the food on the counter or on the dining table. There is also no one to tell it to go to its place. You may be away for a few minutes. But these “few minutes” are all that it takes for a dog to get whatever it is on the counter.
In such cases, it is important to complement your training methods with a slight modification of the dog’s environment. If it is imperative that the food remain on the counter and you cannot watch it every single minute, then you might as well close the door to the kitchen. If the access to the kitchen does not have a door, you can purchase a dog gate. These contraptions are very easy to install in a passageway. As long as you have two solid vertical structures on both sides of the passageway, they you can install these dog gates.
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Stopping your dog from raiding the kitchen counter requires teaching it to stop the unwanted behavior or giving it something else to do. Removing the reinforcer on the counter and limiting the access to the kitchen also help.