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Does your dog counter surf?

Counters are often tempting for dogs because of the fun, smelly things that are often found on them. Depending on the height of your kitchen counters and the size of your puppy, this may become an issue at your house. Counter surfing is when your dog snatches food or other items from a counter in your home. This could be by standing on his hind legs and reaching or actually jumping onto the counter to see what he can find. 


Obviously this is a behavior we want to avoid or extinguish as soon as possible. The first line of defense is to limit access to good things on your counters. Keep your counters clean! Simply put food away in a cupboard or pantry when you are done with it and wipe the counters off with a rag to eliminate any remaining crumbs. Doing this will eliminate the temptation to search around your counters for rewards. 


The second thing you can do is teach your puppy the LEAVE IT cue. When working on this skill, involve counters. When a plate of food is on the counter, you can give the cue LEAVE IT and reward your puppy for looking at you and leaving the area. I like to practice this behavior  with my puppies using a low table such as a coffee table in my living room. Be ready with high value rewards. The key to success with this one is making sure your puppy NEVER gets the item, hence rewarding himself. Always practice this behavior with your puppy on leash to help reinforce the rules.  

Next, you can avoid counter surfing by watching your puppy 100% while he is out and about. The easiest habit to break is the one that was never formed. It is much easier to create a habit than to undo a bad one, so don’t let counter surfing become an issue by simply watching your puppy. He can be in the kitchen while you are there, but take him with you when you leave. A simple UH-UH or NO can be issued if you see him looking at the counter in anticipation, which can quickly curb his thoughts of surfing. Give him something else to occupy his mind like a puzzle toy or chew. Redirect him away from the counter so he is no longer thinking about that.


Finally, think about what you want your puppy to do and focus on that! For example, I reward my puppies every time they lie down in the kitchen. They quickly learn to lay on their beds and every so often a tasty treat will come their way. This way, I train them to stay down off my counters because I am simply rewarding the behavior I want repeated. They relax while I eat or prepare food then get up and go with me when I leave. You can also teach your puppy the “Out” cue requiring them to stay out of the kitchen area.

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