You may have noticed when cooking or every time you leave your kitchen door open, your dog jumps on your kitchen counter. This behavior is commonly known as counter surfing and is very common and natural for dogs. Canines are scavengers, and also living beings, thus they are naturally drawn to food. Since this tendency to scavenge is instinctive, even the most well-behaved dogs can only resist the temptation to jump on your kitchen counter for so long. If you leave your dog unsupervised for long periods in the kitchen, he will eventually succumb to the temptation and jump on your kitchen counter to scavenge. We discuss this behavior at length below.
The Root of the Behavior
A study conducted by a team from Uppsala University's Science for Life Laboratory compared the DNA of 60 dogs to that of 12 wolves. Findings from the study showed that man did not bring dogs to their homes but on the contrary, dogs became attracted to human settlements when man started farming food 12,000 years ago. The lead author of the study, Erik Axelsson said the study revealed that dogs ate the same starch-rich foods that man grew. The study showed that dogs evolved the genetic markers to digest starch efficiently. It also supported the hypothesis that dogs are attracted to food. According to Axelsson, dogs probably followed man because they were attracted to food that was dumped around human settlements. This is also the same reason why dogs will be attracted to dumpsters around supermarkets and food establishments or why your dog will jump on your kitchen counter.
In the home, the kitchen is one of the most favorite places for dogs to be because there they can find warmth and food. There are several reasons for this, key among them being that dogs are genetically wired to scavenge hence they are drawn to easy food sources. Certain areas in the wild are always abundant with food and dogs know to look out for those areas. This is the same in the home. The fact that food constantly comes from the kitchen passes a strong signal to dogs that it is a key food source. They will jump on your counter expecting you to give them food and if you don’t tell them to get off, this reinforces the connection between kitchen counters and feeding. It is also worth noting that most dog training methods involve food rewards. For a dog, being given food simply means he has been spared the need to go out and look for it himself.
Encouraging the Behavior
It is great to have your dog keep you company while cooking but from a health standpoint, this behavior should be discouraged. Dogs track in all sorts of germs from outside and no matter how much you clean them, you can never completely sanitize them. Dogs transmit worms to people through the oral route. Veterinarian Julie Reck says that fecal material on a dog’s fur is one sure way for your dog to transmit worms. It’s better to err on the side of caution and discourage your dogs from getting on your kitchen counters where you prepare your food. Changing this habit in your dog can be done through controlling his environment.
You can control your dog’s environment by doing the following: put away all food, do not feed your dog table scraps, do not feed him any of the foods you are preparing, and keep your dog out of the kitchen when cooking or when no one is in there. While you could argue that your dog wants your food because it tastes better than his dry food, this is not the case. Veterinary expert Dr. Jennifer Coates says that dogs have one-sixth of the taste buds present in humans. They, therefore, base their food choices on their sense of smell which is a lot sharper than their taste buds and more heightened than that of their owners. If food is fed cold out of the fridge, it might not trigger the same response as warm food.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Veterinarian Malia Friesen advises against encouraging this behavior because allowing it to continue may be harmful to your dog. She says that by continuously giving your dog the table foods you eat, he learns not to be selective with the foods people give him and eventually he will ingest foods like grapes, which she says are dangerous to a dog’s health. Distinctions should also be made between instinct-driven counter surfing and behavioral-driven surfing. Former police dog trainer Mario Ancic says that counter surfing is often confused with attention seeking behavior whereby a dog steals objects other than food from counters. Such behavior is not instinct- driven but is a reflection that your dog needs your attention or needs behavior modification training.
Your dog will never say no to food because it is not in his genetic makeup. Even for humans, saying no to food takes a lot of practice. So, unless you want your dog to eat everything leave you to starve, it is best to keep him off your kitchen counters.
By a Golden Retriever lover Maryanne Gaitho
Published: 03/09/2018, edited: 01/30/2020