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You’ve spent hours prepping the perfect dish for a dinner party. The doorbell rings, and you step away from the kitchen for a few minutes to let your guests in. When you return, your dog is gleefully licking their chops and half of your meal is gone. Sound familiar? Then you’ve experienced counter surfing: when your dog jumps up on a surface—like your kitchen counter or dining room table—and helps himself to a tasty snack.
In addition to being annoying (and sabotaging a delicious dinner), counter surfing can be downright dangerous for your dog. “It’s one thing for a dog to jump up and get a piece of bread or cooked steak, but they also run the risk of eating potentially dangerous foods like coffee or chocolate, or swallowing medications,” says Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, a dog behavior specialist and founder of USA Dog Behavior. “Not to mention your dog could be physically hurt by sharp objects like knives, or they could ruin expensive items like blenders or other electronics.”
The good news is there are steps you can take to teach your dog not to counter surf. Check out the tips below to keep your pup’s paws off your next dinner.
The simplest solution is to keep your counters as clear as possible. If your dog isn’t rewarded with food when they jump up, then they’ll be less likely to repeat the behavior. But you must be consistent. “When your dog does manage to snag something off the counter, they’ll keep repeating the behavior long enough to get reinforcement. It’s like a human playing a slot machine,” says Sheaffer. “Each time your dog jumps on the counter and gets a reward, you’ve bought another month of that behavior.”
Of course, it can be unrealistic to keep your counters totally clear, especially if you rely on counter space when you’re entertaining. If that’s the case, you’ll need to keep an eye on your pup and run interference when necessary. If you’re close enough when your dog jumps up, gently push them sideways with your body and quickly remove the food. When dogs are on their hind legs, they’re off-balance, so even a little nudge will make them drop back down on all fours. “This action is not combative and allows you to take control,” says Sheaffer. Continue to keep your body between your dog and the counter until they lose interest.
If you’re across the room when your dog jumps up, make a loud noise to stop the action and get their attention: Yell in a loud voice STOP or HEY, or make a loud, sharp clap; then take steps toward your dog to block them. “Step sharply in front of your dog and use your torso to obstruct their view of the counter—this technique is called blocking. You’ll know your dog got the message when they sit, look, or walk away,” says Sheaffer.
If you’re still having issues with your dog counter surfing, you can try training them by setting up the following scenario: Place a piece of bologna (or other high-value food) on the edge of the counter and hide somewhere where you can see the dog but they can’t see you. When they start moving toward the food, come out of your hiding space and make whatever noise you’ve chosen to indicate “no,” Sheaffer advises. The dog will start thinking you’re always present and watching (even when you’re not). Practice this training technique several times and your dog should stop.
If you’re still having problems with your pup, consider crating your dog or gating off your kitchen when you need to leave food out unattended. This strategy is called “restrain vs. train,” explains Sheaffer. Sometimes it’s better to remove your dog from tempting situations rather than have them repeat undesirable behaviors.
The bottom line: Use whatever techniques work best for you and your pup, but never punish your dog after the fact, warns Sheaffer. “Sure, if you yell at your dog, they’ll be stressed and fearful of you, but they won’t be feeling guilty over what they did wrong. Dogs can’t make that kind of connection. All yelling and punishing your dog does is sour their relationship with you,” says Sheaffer. So the next time your pup goes after that juicy chicken thigh, employ the techniques above instead.
The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.
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