Kitchen counters tempt your dog with the promise of countless delicious food morsels. Unfortunately, they also hold hazards like toxic foods, dangerous kitchen tools, and remnants of cleaning chemicals. All of these things can cause serious injury to your dog which is why it’s important to stop counter-surfing as soon as it starts!
What is Counter-Surfing?
Counter-surfing is a term that refers to dogs jumping onto kitchen counters to steal food that has been left out. While dogs can counter-surf for other items, it is most common for dogs to counter-surf for edible items.
Dogs that are habitual counter-surfers may jump up to check counters for items even if they don’t see or smell them. This is the result of previous incidences of the dog jumping up and being rewarded by finding items in the past.
Different Types of Counter-Surfing
Traditional counter-surfing involves larger breed dogs that hop up onto a kitchen counter with their front paws. The hind paws remain on the ground and the dog uses their muzzle and sometimes one front paw to reach the food item.
Small dogs don’t have the ability to jump up to counter-level, but they can utilize other items to climb up to counters. For example, some dogs have even been known to push chairs over to countertops so that they can reach a food item that they smell or see.
Most often seen in small dogs using the tactic mentioned above, full counter-surfing is when a dog jumps onto the countertop with all four legs.
Keeping Your Dog Off the Counter
The only way to prevent counter-surfing is to keep your dog off the kitchen counters. This can be done in a number of ways.
The most desirable way to prevent counter-surfing is to modify your dog’s behavior. This teaches your dog that what they are doing is not acceptable.
- When you see your dog about to jump onto the countertop give a stern “No!”
- If a verbal command does not deter them from following through and jumping onto the counter, physically remove your dog from the counter and give the “off” command.
- Now distract your dog by taking them into another room and focusing their attention on something else.
- Each time your dog tries to repeat this behavior you must respond in the same way. Over time they will learn that counter-surfing no longer gets them tasty treats. They will also learn that each time they try to counter-surf you will stop them before they can.
Clicker training is a method of training your dog to complete a specified command when they hear the sound of the clicker.
- Take a treat in hand and give your dog a “place” command. Use the treat to lure him to his bed (or designated place).
- When your dog has all of his feet on his bed, click the clicker and reward him with the treat.
- Repeat this lesson until your dog associates the sound of the clicker with their bed and receiving a treat.
- Now, when you notice that your dog is getting ready to jump onto the counter click the clicker to request that your dog returns to their bed. If the “place” clicker command is ingrained well enough, your dog will follow through.
- Repeat this action any time you notice that your dog is about to jump up onto the countertop.
Some dogs have difficulty overcoming their instinct for food. This can make behavioral modification extremely hard to do when the behavior you are trying to change is rewarding your dog with the food that they desire. In these instances, it is important to combine behavioral modification techniques with deterrents.
Behavioral modification teaches your dog that their behavior is undesirable while the deterrent makes the undesirable behavior unpleasant for your dog.
There are a variety of deterrents:
The Scat Mat
The scat mat is placed on the countertop and emits a static pulse when your dog touches it. This deters your dog from jumping onto the counter again.
The sonic deterrent is placed on the countertop and uses either a vibration sensor or a light beam to detect when your dog is on the counter. When vibration is sensed, or the light beam is broken a sound is emitted that your dog finds unpleasant.
A snap paddle is placed on the countertop and when your dog touches the paddle as they jump onto the counter, the paddle snaps and makes a loud noise. The noise, as well as the motion of the paddle, deters your dog from jumping on the counter again.
Sticky sheets are often marketed for cat owners, but also work well for counter-surfing dogs. These sheets work just like tape and are placed on the countertops. When your dog tries to jump onto the counter their feet get stuck to the sticky sheets. While your dog can pull their feet off the sheets, they find them to be bothersome and irritating.
Dogs learn much more effectively from positive reinforcement (such as the methods of behavioral modification mentioned above) than they do from negative reinforcement. It is not advised to utilize the deterrents noted in this section unless you have exhausted every other option available to you.
Other Tips for Keeping Your Dog from Counter-Surfing
There are a number of things that you can do to stop your dog from counter-surfing simply by making it difficult or impossible to do.
- Always keep countertops free from anything edible or desirable to your dog.
- If possible, close kitchen doors to make counter-surfing impossible.
- If your dog can’t be trusted not to counter-surf when you are not home confine them in a secure crate.
- Train your dog well and reinforce that training regularly.
- Exercise your dog as much as they need, a tired dog is a good dog!
How Not to Stop Your Dog from Counter-Surfing
Although counter-surfing is not a desirable behavior you should take care in how you discourage your dog from this behavior. Some of the things that you should not do to stop your dog from counter-surfing include:
- Do not use your knees or body to push your dog off the countertop, this can cause your dog injury. This also creates a negative association between you and your dog which can get in the way of bonding and trust.
- Do not forcefully remove your dog from the countertop. You should never use force for any reason when working with your dog.
- Do not strike your dog (See above).
Counter-Surfing Frequently Asked Questions
Do All Dogs Counter-Surf?
Not all dogs have the desire or the ability to counter-surf. If presented with something completely irresistible, however, most dogs can be tempted to try their luck. This is why it’s so important for you to set your dog up for success by not leaving temptation within reach.
Can Long-Time Counter-Surfers Be Stopped?
Long-time counter-surfing dogs can be stopped with the right approach. Just like humans, different dogs respond to different teaching methods. If you find that your dog doesn’t respond to one type of behavioral modification, try another approach. With a little persistence and a lot of positive reinforcement, you can teach your dog that counter-surfing is not acceptable.
Working on habits that have been present for a long time can be more than the average dog owner can handle. If you don’t feel equipped to work with your dog on negative behaviors, it’s always best to call in a behavioral trainer.
Can Dogs Learn to Counter-Surf from Canine Housemates?
If a dog comes into a household and begins to counter-surf, a dog that previously showed no signs of counter-surfing can learn the behavior. Even if a dog is exceptionally well behaved if they observe another dog being rewarded continually through negative behavior, they may emulate that behavior to receive a reward themselves.
What if a Dog Just Won’t Learn to Stop Counter-Surfing?
Every dog’s behavior can be modified with the right approach. If you are having no success modifying your dog’s counter-surfing habits yourself, call in a behavioral trainer.