Counter surfing is a common problem behavior for dogs where they jump up and steal food from kitchen counters and tables. While counter surfing stems from natural canine scavenging instincts, this bad habit can still be prevented and corrected with proper training. Here are effective methods for dealing with and curbing counter surfing.
Understanding Counter Surfing
To start, it’s important to understand what drives counter surfing:
- Natural instinct to forage and scavenge for food
- Opportunistic learning rewarded by scoring “prizes”
- Boredom and curiosity when left unsupervised
- Lack of training reinforcing human spaces are off limits
Knowing what motivates this behavior helps address it accordingly.
Managing the Environment
The first line of defense is effectively managing your environment:
- Never leave appetizing food out on counters or stoves
- Keep trash cans covered or latched closed
- Push chairs into tables when not in use
- Clear surfaces of everything except unbreakable items
- Install child locks on cupboards containing food
Eliminating opportunities and rewards is key to changing behavior.
Proper Crating and Confinement
When you can’t actively supervise, use confinement:
- Crate train your dog to enjoy rest periods in their crate
- Baby gate the kitchen entry to restrict access
- Close doors to rooms with kitchen access
- Keep dogs restricted to dog beds or tethers in sight
- Never attempt to crate as punishment
Setting dogs up for success reduces chances to counter surf.
Basic obedience training establishes you as the leader and provider:
- “Off” teaches them to immediately get off counters, tables, etc
- “Leave it” commands ignoring tempting items
- “Down” keeps them settled calmly in designated spots
- Reward compliance with treats and praise
Structure reinforces waiting for sanctioned eating.
Advanced Training Techniques
For more stubborn surfers, try advanced deterrents:
- Booby trap counters with mousetraps, trays of pennies or tape
- Spray bitter apple or lemon juice on common surf zones
- Hide remote-activated air spray deterrents on counters
- Use an automatic air canister when any motion is detected
Deterrents teach that counters aren’t worth the trouble.
Address Underlying Causes
Consider and address any underlying causes:
- Increase exercise, stimulation and bonding time
- Provide food puzzles and dispensers for mental enrichment
- Rule out any anxiety, boredom or medical issues
- Adjust medications if increased appetite is a side effect
Meeting a dog’s needs leaves them less likely to surf.
Be Patient and Consistent
Lastly, have patience and stick to training:
- Prevent as many rewards as possible from the start
- Consistently reinforce desired behaviors
- Manage until old habits are replaced with new training
- Never punish after the fact – just prevent access
Stay dedicated and counter surfing will decrease over time. Celebrate milestones like walking past counters without surfing. With diligence, this undesirable behavior can be overcome.
Frequently Asked Questions About Counter Surfing
Troublesome counter surfing habits can be changed with the right approach. Here are answers to common questions and concerns pet owners have about addressing counter surfing:
Why does my dog only counter surf when I’m not home?
Dogs naturally inhibit undesirable behavior when owners are present. Counter surfing still happens when owners are away since the dog believes they can get away with it undetected.
My dog surfs the counter even when nothing is up there. Why?
The residual smells of food are still enticing. Dogs also explore with their noses. Removing scents and restricting access teaches that counters aren’t rewarding to monitor anymore.
Are certain breeds more prone to counter surfing?
Larger and more athletic breeds like Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Shepherds do have increased counter surfing tendencies. But any motivated dog is capable of this behavior.
How can I teach my dog to stay off counters if I’m not home?
Set up pet cameras to monitor behavior and give feedback later. Motion-activated deterrents also teach that counters are undesirable to access when you’re away.
Is it too late to stop counter surfing in an older dog?
No, counter surfing can be curbed at any age through management and training. But the earlier this behavior is addressed, the faster you will see results.
Could counter surfing indicate my dog needs more exercise?
Quite possibly. Ensure your dog receives adequate physical and mental exercise. Boredom and excess energy often contribute to undesirable exploratory behaviors like surfing.
What is an effective off-leash method to interrupt counter surfing?
Teaching a reliable “Off” cue with positive reinforcement. When counter surfing is detected, say “Off” then reward descending. This builds an immediate conditioned response.
With vigilance and consistency, counter surfing can be overcome. Don’t get frustrated – your dog can learn your kitchen is off limits with time.