Have you ever turned your back in the kitchen for just a moment, then returned to find your food had been snatched? You were looking forward to that tasty sandwich, but so was your dog! You can tell he enjoyed himself because he's licking his chops as he gives you his best "guilty dog" face.
"Counter surfing" is basically when your dog jumps up on a table or counter to help himself to whatever goodies he might find up there. It can be frustrating when your food isn't safe from sneaky pooches. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to put an end to this annoying habit.
Keep Counters Clear
The first step to putting an end to counter surfing involves training for you rather than for your dog. It's important that your dog never gets rewarded for jumping up on the counter. Therefore, unless you are right there to supervise what is going on, the kitchen counter and table should be kept completely clear. If your dog jumps up and manages to snag even the smallest nibble of something, he's getting rewarded for his behavior, so he's more likely to repeat it.
Some dogs find things other than food rewarding. Your dog may be almost as excited to steal a pot holder or sponge off your counter as he is food. Keep this in mind when you are clearing off your counters. They should be as empty as possible.
Train Your Dog to Keep Four Paws on the Floor
You can teach your dog that having all four paws on the floor is rewarding. Once you are in the habit of keeping your counters clear, your dog will have less and less reason to jump up. Now it's time to teach him that it is more rewarding to stay on the floor than it is to jump up on the counter.
Start to reward your dog's good behavior. When you're working in the kitchen, any time your dog has all four paws on the floor, throw him a treat. Soon he will realize that he only receives a treat when he is on the floor and that he never gets rewarded by jumping up on the counter.
You can also teach your dog a place command that will send him to a mat or his bed in the kitchen. Spend several training sessions working on the "place" command. Once your dog is consistently going to his mat or bed and staying there, you can send him to his place when you are preparing food in the kitchen. Even after your dog has learned to stay on his mat or bed for a fairly long period of time, keep throwing him treats every so often. It's important that your dog is regularly reminded that it's more rewarding to keep all four feet on the floor then it is to jump up on the counter.
Train Your Dog to Leave It
Despite your best intentions, someone in the family is bound to leave food unattended on the counter or table. If you catch your dog in the act of trying to snatch something off the table, it helps if he knows the "leave it" command. This command tells your dog to leave the food on the table alone. If he responds to the "leave it" command, wait until he has all four feet on the floor, ask him to sit, and then give him a treat. Again, this just reinforces that it is more rewarding for your dog to keep all four paws on the floor than it is to jump up to counter surf.
When All Else Fails
If your dog is not responding well to the above techniques, you may wish to seek help from a dog trainer or behaviorist. A professional can help you figure out where the communication is breaking down between you and your dog. In the meantime, keep those counters clear. In addition, you should probably keep your dog confined when you are gone so there are no mishaps. Be patient and stay consistent. You can do this!
Edited by Jenna Stregowski, RVT