Today we’re going to tackle the problem of counter surfing dogs.
As the name suggests, counter surfing is when a dog is looking for food off the counter. Anyone who has seen the meal they worked so hard to prepare, in ruins, will be looking for answers on how to stop/prevent dogs from doing it.
Not only is it irritating to us, to say the least, it can be dangerous to them. They can get burned by hot food or hot plates, cut themselves on broken glass, get sick from eating too much, or something that is dangerous. Eating a high fat meal, in one go, can even lead to pancreatitis.
Why do dogs counter surf?
I don’t think it’s anything more complicated then dogs looking for food wherever they can find it. Pair that with them finding what the seek, even if only occasionally, and you have a dog that will keep counter surfing.
How to stop it
First let’s talk about various methods that have been tried, and which I do not recommend for reasons that I will also mention.
What not to do and why
No physical punishment whatsoever, ever, ever. That holds true no matter what action you’re annoyed about.
Using booby traps as I will describe below. Aside from them being less than kind and possibly leading to the creation of other behaviour problems, you are not going to spend the rest of your dog’s life booby trapping the kitchen counter. It won’t work, and he will find a hole in your defences and reach the food anyway.
Putting cans filled with coins or rocks that, when knocked over, will startle your dog and interrupt his feed. A variation of that is attaching a string to the cans that you pull off the counter when you see him about to pounce. Here’s the problem – scaring your dog can have consequences. For instance, what if your dog becomes afraid when you drop your keys? Similar sounds right?
Leaving food out laced with something bitter to put your dog off eating it. Aside from it not being a very nice thing to do, it’s doubtful it will prevent him from ever touching another plate of food.
Something like sticky tape can be placed around the counter, but it won’t work if your dog is determined.
Using scat mats that emit a static pulse when your pet touches them may stop him from reaching for the food, but the trauma of being shocked can create a lot more problems. How about being too scared to go into the kitchen? What about the cruelty factor?
Isn’t it better to find a more humane way to get your dog to stop unwanted behaviours?
Okay, so what methods will prevent my dog from counter surfing?
There are two ways to put an end to this – environmental management and training.
Even if your dog is very well trained, knows leave it and drop it, and ignores food on the counter when you’re around, he will go for it when you’re not there. It’s just the way it is. One stroke of good fortune, and the behaviour is pretty much established.
The one thing guaranteed to work is to never leave food out on the counter, table, or anywhere he can get his hands, oops I mean paws, on it.
If you slip up even once, that’s good enough for him and he will go back to surfing. We’re not machines, and slip ups happen so don’t beat yourself up. Have a talk with everyone in the house, and try and do better.
If you have very deep counters, then pushing the food as far back as you can may put it far enough out of your dog’s reach. Unless you have a very tall dog, and even that won’t help.
You could keep him out of the kitchen, close the door, or block access to where food is left out by using baby gates. You could also try crating your dog if he’s been trained. If not, you can’t just put him in a crate, it doesn’t work that way.
To start off, your dog should know the following commands – “leave it” “stay” and “down.”
You must decide on a line (real or imagined) that your dog cannot cross. When you’re working in the kitchen or even sitting down for a meal, teach your dog to stay/lie down on the nice comfy bed you have provided him with. It’s okay to leave it within visual range of all of you.
It will take quite a bit of consistent practice to get him to stay on his bed. Who can blame him with all the delicious smells wafting his way! Be patient and you, or I should say he, will get it. Have no doubt, he will get up from that bed and try and make his way over to you. Whenever he does try and cross that line, just block him with your body and don’t let him pass. Keep sending him back to his bed.
Don’t expect him to lie quietly without having that behaviour acknowledged and rewarded. Throw him a few high value treats every once in a while. They can be pieces of chicken, ham, cheese, vegetables – anything safe for your dog, meeting any dietary restrictions he may have. Because your goal is to make him stay on his bed, it is counterproductive to call him to come get the treat. You have to walk over to give it to him, or throw it onto his bed.
At the beginning, give them quite regularly, so he sees how great it is for him when he listens. You’ll be able to reduce the frequency over time, and perhaps you can give him a Kong or good quality dental bone to gnaw on.
How to stop dogs from counter surfing – conclusion
Can you be guaranteed your dog will never try and counter surf again? No of course not, but if you are consistent with your environmental management and training techniques, you’ll be pretty close to it. I hope you enjoyed this article on counter surfing dogs, and why not share it with other surfers you know!!
Tell us…are you living with a counter surfer? Have you managed to curtail that behaviour and if so, what measures have worked for you? Please share them in the comment section below, because your stories can help others.