Counter surfing can be one of the most difficult things to train a dog not to do. It doesn’t matter if you yell at the dog, physically punish it, give it a time out, or anything else—the dog still got the hamburgers you were planning to cook out with, and they were delicious.
Dogs are natural food scavengers. They will eat items we as humans know are inappropriate, such as foil, plastic wrappers, and more. Counter surfing can be one of the most difficult things to train a dog not to do.
Almost every time a dog jumps, it is reinforced by what it finds up there. It doesn’t matter if you yell at the dog, physically punish it, give it a time out, or anything else—the dog still got the food, and it was good while it lasted.
So, this all begs the question – how to stop dog from jumping on counter? Read on to find out! If you have questions beyond the information we offer, it is always recommended that you consult with your veterinarian or a certified dog trainer to help correct problem behavior.
Why Does My Dog Counter Surf?
Besides the obvious, there are other reasons your dog may choose to counter surf. It is important to understand why so you can learn how to stop dog from jumping on counter.
- Boredom: If your dog has nothing else to occupy them, they will find ways to entertain themselves. Counter surfing is just one way they do this.
- Lack of Dog Training: If your dog has never been trained not to jump on the counter before, they aren’t aware that it is unwanted behavior.
- Craves Attention: If your dog wants attention, they may try counter surfing to get that attention, even if it is negative attention. Some will even make sure the dog owner is watching before engaging in the bad
- Lack of Exercise: If your dog is not getting adequate physical exercise, they will find other ways to expend their excess This often results in behavioral issues like his jumping behavior.
- Underlying Problems: There may also be some kind of underlying behavior problem like separation anxiety. This can cause the dog to engage in destructive and bad behavior.
- Hunger: Your dog simply may just be hungry, and that is why they resort to counter surfing.
Management of behavior
Management is the key to stopping counter surfing. If you don’t have anything on the counter for the dog to get, then there is no reason to jump. In most cases, keeping temptations out of reach and zoning appropriate areas for the dog to occupy is what is really necessary and successful. This type of management can be difficult for a dog owner to deal with, so there are some things that you can do to stop counter surfing.
Teach your dog the down or place mat command to keep them from being underfoot. Once your dog can do the command for 5 minutes, begin dog training during food preparation times. This will extend the amount of time it takes to prepare your meals but is well worth it. Your dog will learn to remain on a mat or remain in the same spot.
Your timing will make a big difference in how quickly progress is made while training your dog not to counter surf. Catching him after he has left his place or gotten up from the down command and walked several steps is far from catching the first muscle contraction or intention to break the command. This is why you will need to extend the time it takes to prepare your meals for a few days.
Don’t get discouraged. This will be very time-consuming in the early stages of training. A large amount of time will be needed to keep a good eye on the dog during the first few training sessions.
Once your dog can hold the command for 5 minutes, gradually increase the time by 5 minutes every three days until the dog can hold the command for the entire time you prepare a meal. Achieving this may take several weeks, depending on how many times you practice.
If he gets up during training, give him a correction and either put him back into a down position or take him back to his designated place. Your dog will learn that if he breaks the command, he will be put back anyway, but if he holds the command on his own, he has a good chance at receiving a reward.
Teach your dog to “leave it” by placing a small piece of food (teaser) on the floor with your hand covering it. Verbally cue “leave it” at any attempts to get the teaser. Practice this until your dog is leaving the teaser immediately after you give the cue.
Praise your dog for calm behavior and for ignoring the food item. Then place the teaser on the floor uncovered – but be poised to cover it if your dog should decide to grab it. Again, praise your dog for calm behavior and his ability to ignore the teaser. Practice this until your dog is great at it.
Practice placing the teaser on the coffee table, the counter, etc. Methodically add distance between yourself and the teaser. Do short trials nearby and practice with different teaser food items on the counter and in various spots on the counter. Don’t stay in just one area.
Make sure you also practice turning your back. You can eventually lead up to leaving the room while keeping the food item on the counter. If he doesn’t go for it, be sure you are quick with his reward and praise when you return.
Restrict Your Dog’s Access to the Kitchen
You can restrict the dog’s access to the kitchen. This can be done with baby gates, convenient doors, or simply never letting the dog into the kitchen. Boundary training is a great way to teach your dog when a room is off-limits.
In addition to preventing the dog from helping himself to food (and some dogs can be very covert about this), excluding the dog from the kitchen while preparing food also prevents you from giving your dog scraps.
Giving your dog scraps may encourage him to beg or steal. This also inadvertently causes the dog to become overweight or eat things that disagree with him. Denying your dog access to the kitchen also puts the dog outside the risk zone for hazards such as accidental spilling of boiling water or deep-frying oil.
Additionally, you may want to exclude the dog from the room where you are eating during a meal, especially if you have guests who might be pushovers for doggie begging. If you often eat off a TV table or a coffee table while watching TV and don’t want to wonder if your dog is helping himself to your dinner, then exclusion can be a good strategy.
The obvious methods of exclusion are to crate the dog (possibly with his own dinner served inside the crate) or to have a stretch gate barrier to keep all dogs out of the room temporarily.
Clean the Counters Thoroughly
Another thing you can do to help prevent counter surfing is to clean all the countertops thoroughly after you are done cooking. Doing so removes any crumbs or lingering food scents that may tempt your dog to jump up and investigate. You should also consider removing other items that may be cluttering the countertops.
Even if there is no food on the counter, your dog will still be drawn to any area that has items. And that is the area he will typically engage in counter surfing.
Never Feed from the Counter
You should also avoid feeding your dog from the counter or other off-limit areas. If the dog sees that the food you are giving him is from the counter or table, he will continue to associate those spots with food. This means he will be more likely to return to these areas in search of food in the future.
Spray a Chew Deterrent
If all else fails, you can try to spray a chew deterrent on the countertop or table. Doing so will make the surface taste awful and deter the dog from licking the area. However, keep in mind this will only work if your dog just licks the countertop and counter surfs for food. If they just grab random items off the counters, it may not prove to be the best deterrent.
Teach Your Dog Not to Counter Surf Before It Becomes a Problem
Even if your dog has never had a counter surfing problem, you will want to set the dog up. By doing so, your dog will learn that it is ALWAYS dangerous to try getting up on the counter. The main objective is to make counter surfing so risky and unattractive that the dog gives up.
Use Booby Traps to discourage stealing food
One method involves booby traps. BOOBY TRAPS are when you leave a temptation available but gimmicked in a way that when the dog tries to touch it, something sufficiently startling or averse occurs.
The Snappy Trainer
The most usual booby traps would be mouse traps for easily discouraged dogs. The variant of a mousetrap used for dogs is called a Snappy Trainer. It has a plastic flap attached to it that causes an increased startle effect but prevents any stinging pinch if a paw or nose gets snapped. (See our full Snappy Trainer review.)
The Snappy Trainer (see our review) is a safe, effective, humane way to teach your dog boundaries. Whether keeping your dog out of the trash or off the counter, the Snappy Trainer is a valuable tool for setting boundaries and correcting behavioral issues with your pooch.
You can sprinkle enticing food with hot sauce, cayenne pepper, bitter apple spray, lemon juice, etc. Provided your dog doesn’t love strange things and doesn’t thoroughly inspect food before eating, you have a chance at teaching your dog that food on the counter tastes nasty.
Some people report success from arranging a pile of tin cans or pie plates that will fall with a crash when jostled. If you use pop cans, put several pennies or pebbles in them and tape the cans shut with duct tape. Also, select some delicious, tempting, and smelly food to use as the BAIT.
Put the food in a plastic container with a lid (small butter containers work well) and punch some holes in the container’s lid (the container keeps the dog from getting the food).
There are several versions of this method. You can try placing several pop cans right at the edge of the counter with just two or three inches between them. One jump from your dog will bring down all the cans and make a terrific racket, which will also bring down the dog.
Another version involves empty cans stacked in a pyramid fashion with a loop of string around the bottom row. The bait of choice is tied to the string and left within the dog’s reach. The dog grabs the bait and upsets the stack of cans, which fall with a crash. The dog runs for cover and, in so doing, learns a lesson.
Another version involves enticing food, a cookie sheet, a thin rope, several pennies, soda cans, and a good place for the human to hide. Put the food on the cookie sheet—the smellier, the better. Put the cookie sheet far enough back on the counter so that the dog can’t easily see it. Surround the food with soda cans that have pennies placed inside.
Attach the string to the tray so that you can hide while still holding the string. Wait for the dog to come in and find the food. As soon as it commits to being bad, pull the string. The trick is for the dog not to see that you made everything come crashing down.
Purchase Commercial Products That Deter Your Dog
There are several commercial products that you can use to deter your dog from getting on the counter. The first product to consider is the Scat Mat You place the mat on the surface you want your pet to avoid. If the dog touches the mat, it will give a very mild zing of shock not unlike static electricity.
The Scat Mat is a great tool to teach your dog boundaries. You place the mat on the surface you want your pet to avoid. If the dog touches the mat, it will give a very mild zing of shock not unlike static electricity. It is safe and humane.
You can also look into the X-Mat, which is an inexpensive plastic mat with raised plastic nubs on it. Like the Scat Mat, the X-Mat is placed on the counter and the dog touches it when it jumps up. Unlike the Scat Mat, no shock is given; the aversion is that the bumps don’t feel very nice.
A more expensive option, which can be very effective, is a remote stimulation collar. Without showing the dog what you are doing, but with the dog in the room, give him a tiny morsel of the food, just so he might “think” about stealing it from the counter.
Set up your trap. Not too easy—place the food where it might be if you were distracted by the front door. Pretend the doorbell rang and leave the room. You will need to be hiding in a place where you can still observe the dog or can hear the noise.
As soon as the dog commits to counter surf, press the stimulation button. The feeling is unpleasant and will startle the dog causing the dog to sense a correction without you being involved. Odds are he will not touch it again today. But, he will try again tomorrow. It isn’t learned the first time, but having a dog create his own corrections, helps eliminate the behavior quickly.
Reinforce Positive Behavior
Your dog will eventually begin to understand that calm and good behavior is often rewarded over bad behavior. Reinforce positive behavior with a tasty treat and some praise. You can also teach your dog the “settle” command. This basic command will teach your dog when it is time to calm down.
Be Proactive not Reactive
With any training it is better to be proactive than reactive. By preventing your dog from having opportunity to learn to regard the kitchen counter, kitchen trash can, and outdoor trash cans, as being sources of food to be raided, you can prevent countersurfing. It is important as well to be prepared to train your dog through whatever means necessary to regard this temptation as one worth resisting.
What Not to Do When Correcting Counter Surfing
Don’t correct the dog after the behavior. It is best to catch the bad behavior while the counter surfer is engaged in it. If he has successfully snatched food off the counter and is happily scarfing it down, the time to correct the bad behavior has passed.
Instead, catch the dog near the counter and tell him to leave it before he grabs the food. Also, screaming no won’t help with this unwanted behavior either. The dog won’t understand. Positive reinforcement can go a long way in behavior modification.
Remember the food on a table is still yours even though it is not in your hand. Even if you leave the room for a few minutes, your dog still needs to respect this.
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