How To Keep Your Dog From Counter Surfing

Counter surfing: that annoying habit some dogs have of putting their front paws on the counter then grabbing whatever food item they can find and then scarfing it down. Some dogs don’t even care if there is no food to be had and will grab anything that is within reach, such as papers or a magazine.

Counter surfing can also be dangerous. There have been several reports of dogs who attempted to get something left on top of a gas stove, and in their efforts, they managed to turn on the gas and start a house fire. Yikes!! Also, your dog might ingest food that while great for humans, is toxic to dogs, such as grapes or avocado.

You can train your dog not to jump on counters but it’s one of those behaviors that is difficult to extinguish as it’s self-rewarding. This means that if the dog is successful, he gets rewarded by the food, or crumbs or the paper or whatever he was trying to steal, so it’s not easy to undo this behavior. Yet, it’s not impossible either. Let’s begin.

First of all, you need to do what you can to prevent this unwanted behavior in the first place by removing any source of temptation, including food items or even crumbs. Eventually your dog will realize there is never any reward from his jumping on the counter and this will go a long way in extinguishing the behavior. 

If you must put food items on the counter for any length of time, then exclude your dog from the room with a gate until the item is safely put away. And remember, even after your dog is trained, you must be viligant in keeping the countertops clear of food. Some dogs will succumb to temptation if you leave food out and are not in the room.

The next thing to do is to reward him for resisting bad behavior. If you see him in the kitchen sniffing and poking around and you know the next thing he is likely to do is start to counter surf, then give him a command he already knows, such as “sit” or “down” or “go to your place” and then reward him for it. The idea behind this is to teach him he is likely to get a treat when he obeys you, rather than doing something sneaky.

Don’t use a “scare mat” or “scat mat” that actually shocks your dog or makes a loud noise when he jumps up. They may be successful at first, but can cause emotional trauma such as the dog refusing to come into the kitchen or he might begin to have elimination accidents in the house because of anxiety and stress from being shocked.

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By Ellen Britt

Dr. Ellen Britt has loved dogs since she was a child. She is particularly fond of the Northern breeds, especially Alaskan Malamutes. Ellen worked as a PA in Emergency and Occupational Medicine for two decades and holds a doctorate (Ed.D.) in biology.

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