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.
My dog recently discovered that we keep mangoes in a box on the floor in the kitchen by sneaking into the kitchen in the middle of the night once. (She is not allowed in the kitchen.) The next time I bought mangoes, I put the box of mangoes on the counter. The next morning, there was a mango on the floor that my dog had stolen by jumping up to the counter in the middle of the night. What is the best way to train my dog not to do this without hiding in the kitchen all night watching the counter?
Hello! Your best bet is to have the "punishment" come from the counter if that makes sense. If she receives a negative response from whatever she is getting to in general, she will likely not repeat that behavior. I have had luck with customers leaving a puddle of vinegar on the counter. When the dogs jumps up, they splash in the vinegar. Dogs have huge aversions to anything bitter. This is a safe and effective way to stop this problem. Just do a test spot somewhere as I don't know what type of counters you have!
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After the day with my dog at the park, it seemed that he started to surf the counter more, plus he started acting very rebellious in doing so.
He starts whining a lot (almost like he is in the crate) and jumps continuously onto the countertops to try to get something off there, and it happens even when we are there to stop him.
If we do stop him, he will then beg for food, even though all we are doing is sitting at the counter in the kitchen not eating anything, even with no bowl or plate on the counter.
I also noticed that even when all 4 family members are at home, he started scratching the entrance door much more often, and start whining. Is he wanting attention or is he needing to go potty?
Hello Kien, I suggest a trip to your vet to get him checked out for worms, especially a tape worm - which are not prevented with routine heart-worm medication and cause increased hunger and bottom discomfort. You can also check his poop for tapeworm pieces, break the poop apart with a stick and look for small off-white pieces about the size of a grain of rice. You can look up pictures of what to look for online. They will not be in every poop so you will have to check quite a few stools. I am not a vet. For further details you can "Ask a Vet" on this website also. If the stool sample is fine, then the counter surfing is probably for attention and booby trapping the counter so that he is corrected by the counter itself and not given any attention for it is recommended. A scat mat is one of the easiest ways to do this. You can also use Snappy Trainers set up underneath a tablecloth- out of sight on the rims of the counter. The snappy trainers will not harm him but should startle him and take the fun out of the jumping up. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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Hello Penny, First, work on the Leave It command from the article linked below for surfing that happens when you are present. Leave It method- the first part of that method that involves food. Gradually work up to pup leaving harder foods alone - like kibble - treats - chicken - hotdogs - until pup can leave food on the floor alone when told that command while you are there to enforce it and prevent pup from grabbing it. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite For surfing that is happening while you are out of the room, I recommend creating an aversion to jumping on the counter itself. There are a few ways to do this. You can place something like a scat mat on the counter and put a food temptation further back on the counter just out of reach - when pup jumps up the mat gives a static shock - nothing harsh but its uncomfortable and surprising. You can also set up Snap Traps covered lightly with unfolded napkins. When pup touches them on the edge of the counter, they will jump up and make a snapping sound - startling pup. These are designed for this type of purpose so won't actually close on pup like real mouse traps would - don't use real mouse traps because of the risk of injury. You can also stack metal pot lids and pans precariously on the counter. Tie a strong string like twine through all of them and back tie the whole contraption to something secure so that when they fall they can't fall all the way off the counter, then tie another string to the lip or pan that's supporting the precarious set up and tie the other end of that string to a safe food booby trap, like a whole bagel sitting on the counter. The idea is that when pup jumps up and grabs the food, they will pull the objects over and create a loud crashing noise that will surprise them. Because of the back tie string the objects should not fall on pup though. With all of these setups, you will need to set up a camera to spy on pup from the other room and be ready to run in and remove any food left on the counter or floor, so that pup doesn't return to the scene of the crime once things are calm and eat the food anyway - otherwise they may decide that its still worth it to jump up. You will need to practice this setup often with pup in different parts of the counter and with different foods. Don't use any food that could harm pup if they were to eat it - like chicken bones, grapes, chocolate, xylitol, nuts, garlic, or onion. When not practicing the trap, keep counters clean and pup confined away from the area or tethered to you with a hands free leash until pup has thoroughly learned the lesson - jumping up and not being surprised and potentially grabbing food, will negate your training efforts - you want pup to think that the counter is always suspicious now so they give up on jumping up. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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