The whole family is gathered for a big family dinner--all the relatives, even the judgy ones you don’t like! Dinner's almost ready, the roast is on the kitchen counter, along with several mouth-watering side dishes. You step into the dining room for a moment to check all is ready, and call everyone to the table, You return to the kitchen and... disaster! Your black lab, Duchess, has the roast down into the middle of the floor and half of it gobbled up, side dishes are all over the place, having been knocked down when Duchess pulled off her most recent heist.
Looks like this is the holiday dinner you order pizza for, as your aunt looks disapprovingly down her nose at you. While this one incident may be looked back on years later as a famous family story (after all, the kids were pretty happy with the pizza), if your dog is counter surfing to steal your food this is a problem that has to be corrected and fast.
From a very young age, dogs should be taught what food is theirs and what food is yours. This includes teaching your dog where it is and isn't appropriate to get their food from, and defining your territory. Preventing counter surfing from providing a payoff in the first place is the most effective way to eliminate the behavior. Counter surfing occurs when your dog detects food on the counter, then jumps up to grab the food and makes his getaway, reward in hand--or actually in mouth, as it turns out!
Although prevention is ideal, we don't live in a perfect world, and chances are sooner or later there is going to food on the counter, and an unattended dog is going to try to reach it, which can create a reward for the behavior. The problem is, not only does counter surfing provide your dog with a reward, worse, it is a variable reward, as sometimes there is food to be had, and sometimes not. This means your dog will keep trying the behavior in order to get a payoff, whether there is food always available on the counter or not. These kinds of behavior are hard to break. Food is a primary motivator for most dogs, and punishment provided after your dog has got their primary reward is usually ineffective, as your dog will not understand why he is being punished for getting a positive reward.
To correct counter surfing once it has occurred, you will need to remove the payoff during training, that is, make sure your dog does not get rewarded and reinforced for counter surfing until you have established an alternate behavior to prevent counter surfing from occurring. You want to teach your dog that he will be rewarded for leaving food on the counter, or removing your dog from the situation and rewarding him for an alternate behavior, establishing that the counter is human territory, not his! Your ultimate goal: all four paws on the floor, and no investigating the counter.
Prevent a payoff by keeping counters clean, including food spills that could be licked up. Consider putting your dog in a crate during food prep or banning your four-legged friend from the kitchen, until he learns not to look for food on the counter. It helps if you do not provide your dog with people food, either in his dish after your meal or during meals. This helps your dog distinguish between his food and your food. Remember, food is a primary motivator for most dogs, and unless you teach your dog to understand which food is yours and which is his, your dog is going to see all food as his goal. Although punishment is ineffective, if your dog receives his reward first, it is possible to set up negative reinforcement by setting a “trap” that springs prior to your dog receiving a payoff, a loud noise maker or double-sided sticky tape can help provide this. Also, teaching your dog a 'leave it' command with treats and an alternative action, such as 'go to your place' with a mat, can provide alternate behaviors that prevent counter surfing.