There’s nothing more aggravating than having your counter surfing dog beat you to your dinner. As annoying as this behavior is, there’s little consolation in knowing that counter surfing is a perfectly natural and normal dog behavior. But it’s true, along with chasing objects and burying bones, counter surfing is normal behavior for a dog.
Normal behavior for a dog simply means that the behavior is natural for him so it’s likely to be one of those behaviors that you will need to train out of him.
Why Do Dogs Counter Surf?
The main reason why dogs counter surf is pretty obvious, and that is to get food. Counter surfing is a food seeking behavior that deals with a dog’s primary instinct to search for food.
When a dog finds food available on the kitchen counter, dining room table, or wherever else he’s gotten lucky, he’s going to figure out pretty fast that these are places where there may be food available.
Once he realizes that food is sometimes in these places, he’ll go and look for it there. If he finds food when he goes there then he’s going to be rewarded for his efforts and his counter surfing behavior is reinforced.
Dealing with counter surfing
One of the first things you’ll need to do if you want to stop counter surfing is train yourself to stop leaving food or dirty dishes on the table or kitchen counter. This will keep counter surfing from starting in the first place or prevent reinforcing the problem if it’s already started.
How to Prevent Counter Surfing
Prevention can be done a couple of ways:
1. Controlling the environment and with training. If your dog is left alone with food and it’s within his reach, even when he’s been trained not to touch anything on a table or counter, he may decide to get it. To successfully train your dog you’ll need to keep all food up if there’s any way your dog can reach it.
2. You’ll also need to stop giving your dog table scraps from the table or counter. If you eat at the table or anywhere else in the house make sure you take all dishes back to the kitchen when you’re finished and either wash them or put them in the dish washer so your dog can’t get to them. In this way you won’t inadvertently give your dog the opportunity to find food and claim it.
How to Train your Dog not to Counter Surf
When dogs in a pack finish their food and walk away from it, what is left is up for grabs. We often believe that our dogs should know that the food we leave belongs to us but our dog thinks differently. According to a dog’s mind, if we leave food on the table, or any other place, and walk away, we are finished with and he can have it!
Dogs have to be trained not to counter surf if you expect them not to do it and here are some training steps that may help:
1. Don’t allow your dog to jump on the kitchen table or chairs or teach him to stay out of the kitchen completely. This is up to you and should be taught when you bring your dog home.
2. Teach your dog not to jump up on the counters or any place you may have food.
3. You’ll use the “leave it” command for this training.
4. Help your dog succeed by keeping the food far enough away that he can’t get to it easily when passing by. Leaving food within easy reach while training your dog not to counter surf rewards the dog for sneaking treats.
When a dog sees food on a counter all he knows is there is food and he wants it. He doesn’t know the food is for another purpose so he’s going to take it. To correct this behavior you will have to catch the dog when he sees the food and begins to move toward it. At this point give him the “leave it” command.
If you don’t correct the dog when he begins to make a move to get the food and he’s already eaten it, by the time you see what he’s done then the correction will be too late and your dog most likely won’t connect your correction with his action. He’s going to be so busy chewing or swallowing if he still has food in his mouth that a correction at this point is useless.
In order for a correction to work the dog has to associate his actions with the correction and in the case of taking food the correction usually needs to be unpleasant. Which means, that taking the food needs to have something unpleasant attached to it.
Most dog owners prefer to watch their dog closely and give him a correction when he makes a move to counter surf. Others fill up cans with coins that and make a loud sound when the dog grabs food, and others opt for covering the food with tabasco sauce or lemon juice to make it unpleasant for the dog, and all of these measures work part of the time, personally we think tempting your dog with foul tasting food as a lure is ineffective.
The best way to stop counter surfing is to not leave temptation within reach while you’re not in the room and reinforce the leave it command every time you see him sneak.
If your dog actually jumps on the counter or stove and is in danger of becoming injured, you may consider humane use of an e-collar to correct dangerous behavior but that is only for dogs trained with ecollars and owners who know how to use them properly.