How Do I Stop My Dog From Counter Surfing?

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We’ve all heard of a dog who steals things off of a counter.

You leave your sandwich on the kitchen counter and go to another room.

When you return, the sandwich has mysteriously disappeared.

Today’s article will explain how to avoid or solve the problem of counter surfing. And the rules that apply to counter surfing also apply to table surfers.

After all, dogs as large as Golden Retrievers can reach either. And even your Shih Tzu can reach items on your coffee table.

Black Lab dog counter surfing on the kitchen table. Front legs up on the counter.

It’s a really frustrating problem for most dog owners. 

As a trainer, I’ve helped many people learn how to prevent or stop a dog’s counter surfing.

Contents & Quick Navigation

What is Counter Surfing?

Of course, a dog taking something off of a counter is counter surfing. But it’s more than that. 

It could also be taking things off other surfaces, such as a table.

So no surface is safe–even where smaller dogs are concerned.

Why Should I Stop My Dog From Counter Surfing?

Counter surfing may not seem like a big deal. But it can be. 

You can lose precious items. Some dogs will take any item they find off the counter–not just food.

And your dog may eat something that’s dangerous. If he ingests chocolate, cooked chicken bones, or raisins or other foods dogs shouldn’t have, the results can be deadly.

Plus it’s probably not a habit you want to live with. 

Why Does My Dog Counter Surf?

Even dogs who have a lot of toys to amuse then might counter surf. 

Dogs are scavengers by nature. It’s in their genes to find food.

They also have a “nose brain” and can smell things on a counter even if they can’t see them.

And, when they get the desired food off the counter, their behavior is reinforced. So they’ll do it again.

After all, if you found 20 dollars on the counter once, wouldn’t you keep checking it every time you pass it?

Some of the reasons a dog counter surfs are:

Your dog is bored

Some dogs who aren’t given enough to occupy them may find something interesting to do–like counter surfing.

Your dog hasn’t been trained to NOT jump on the counter

Sometimes dogs counter surf because no one trained them not to.

It takes work and patience to teach a dog to not jump on a counter.

One golden retriever I rescued, Spencer, didn’t have any training when I got him. 

He lived outside in a shed as a back-yard breeder dog. 

Spencer was about three years old and didn’t know any rules. The first day he was in my house was very exciting for him. 

The sights and smells–especially food–were intriguing.

I left my husband’s dinner on the counter and stepped away for a few seconds. The dish was placed far back from the counter’s edge. 

Next thing I knew, I heard Spencer licking his lips..

He really seemed to enjoy the meatloaf and vegetables. And had a big grin on his face.

He didn’t know that he did anything wrong. No one had trained him that counter surfing wasn’t allowed.

So I knew that I had my work cut out for me to train him not to counter surf.

Your dog seeks attention

A dog that wants attention may counter surf. Even negative attention is attention.

Some dogs will even look over at you to make sure that you’re watching them before stealing the treasured item off of the counter.

Your dog hasn’t had enough physical exercise

If a dog doesn’t have enough exercise, his energy will be expended in other ways.

Many times behavioral issues–like counter surfing–arise because of the dog not having enough exercise.

There’s an underlying behavior problem such as separation anxiety

Some dogs with issues such as separation anxiety will engage in destructive behaviors like counter surfing.

Your dog is hungry

Sometimes there’s no ulterior motive. Instead, the dog may just be hungry when he counter surfs food.

How Do I Stop My Dog From Stealing Things Off The Counter?

It’s really important to manage a counter surfer’s environment so that it’s not too easy to reach desired items on the counter.

It’s easier to prevent it rather than deal with counter surfing after the habit’s been established.

1. Don’t keep items on the counter where a dog can reach them

Generally it’s best to keep the counter clear of any food or items your dog shouldn’t have.

It’s like puppy proofing a house even if the dog’s an adult.

I know that it’s difficult to do this. But if everyone in the family isn’t consistent, the dog won’t learn what’s expected.

If he’s constantly getting food off the counter, in his view he’ll be consistently being rewarded for doing so. And he’ll continue.

So it’s best to start off by managing the environment when you first get the dog.

2. Make sure that the counters are cleaned

Even though you may not leave food on the counter, if something’s been spilled your dog will be drawn to that spot. And he’ll counter surf there.

So it’s advisable to wipe the counters clean to make sure there’s no food residue that will draw him up to the counter.

3. Don’t feed from the counter or table

If your dog’s used to seeing you take treats or his food off these surfaces, he’ll be more likely to think of food being there.

And he’ll be more likely to look for it there.

4. Confine the dog when there’s food on the counter or table

If you’re preparing a meal, it’s usually difficult to watch what your dog’s doing.

If he isn’t yet trained not to counter surf, you can confine him away from the food.

If he’s used to a crate, you can use that. Just be sure not to over-crate.

Baby gates can also work to keep him out of the kitchen while food’s out. 

Teaching him to go to a dog bed or mat can work if he learns to stay there.

5. You can spray a chew deterrent on the counter

There are chew deterrents on the market like Bitter Apple that make the surface licked distasteful. Always test it on an inconspicuous part of the surface first.

This spray may deter a dog who is used to licking a taste off the counter. 

But these deterrents won’t discourage a counter surfer who wants to snatch and grab an item off the counter.

How Do I Stop My Dog From Jumping On The Table? [Stop Counter Surfing]

It’s easier to prevent counter surfing than to break the habit once it’s been established. 

Patience and consistency are important. Everyone in the family has to be consistent in following the established rules.

And management of the dog’s environment will always be important for a counter surfer.

1. Teach the “leave it” command

When you teach a dog to leave something, like food on a counter, you’re teaching him to never take it.

It takes a lot of practice for a dog to become reliable. But it’s worth it. Check out our techniques for teaching the “leave it” command.

Remember to teach the dog to leave things you want him leave at various heights.

I used this command to teach my golden Spencer to stop counter surfing. 

Once he realized what was expected of him, he was much better at not attempting to counter surf.

2. Teach the “off” command

You’re teaching the dog not to jump on things–counters, tables, people.

One way to teach off is lure a dog off a counter with a treat in your hand, saying “off” and say “yes,” giving him the treat when his feet are on the floor. Also praise by saying “good off.”

Then, after he understands no to jump on the counter, start praising and rewarding when he has his feet on the floor and is near the counter.

If you’re consistent, eventually your dog will learn what off means and that he gets rewarded when his feet are on the floor.

3. Teach the dog to go to a place

If you teach your dog to go to a dog bed or mat on the floor and to stay there, he won’t jump on the counter when you place food there.

Of course, you’ll want to teach this command separately without food on the counter until he knows the command well without distractions. 

Then, add distractions, eventually adding the distraction of food on the counter.

Check out how to teach the “place” command.

4. Teach a reliable recall

If you see that your dog is eyeing up the counter, you can call him to you.

A reliable recall is important in many situations and can even save your dog’s life!

Check out how to teach a really reliable recall.

5. Teach barrier training

You can teach your dog to stay out of the kitchen by showing him not to cross an imaginary line.

You can teach your pup not to cross a doorway into the kitchen. But he must first know a solid stay. 

Then, you can walk him up to the doorway and have him sit-stay or down-stay outside of the kitchen.

Check out how to teach the stay command.

6. Teach your dog that great things happen on the floor, not the counter

Have interesting, fun toys, safe chews, and interactive games on the floor.

Treat dispensing toys are great. One of my favorites is a treat dispensing ball that your dog rolls around as kibble and treats fall out.

Stuffed Extreme Kongs can also help him learn that better rewards are found below the counter. 

I put some high-quality moist pate food in the Kong and freeze it overnight.

An added bonus is that it takes dogs time to lick out the food.

And the Kong Wobbler is a fun toy. It dispenses treats or kibble when the dog makes it wobble.

Dogs usually love having these toys to occupy them.

7. Reinforce your dog for doing nothing

It sounds silly, but your dog will understand that calm behavior gets rewarded.

I do this by teaching a “settle” command, where the dog learns to calm down on command.

Check out how to teach the “settle” command.

One he knows “settle” on command, I use that cue to praise him even when he calms down on his own (“good settle”).

I’ve done this with my high-drive Aussie puppy. She learned what “settle” means. 

Now when she does it on her own, I praise and reward that behavior.

8. Feed your dog only in his bowl

For a counter surfer, it’s preferable for him to not associate his food coming from the counter.

Even if you store his food high, it’s recommended that you don’t store it on the counter. 

If he sees you taking food from there, then putting it into his bowl, he’ll be more likely to counter surf. After all, his dinner originates there.

9. Feed your dog enough food

Hungry dogs are more likely to counter surf.

They’re also more likely to try to get food in other undesirable ways, such as in the trash.

If you’re not sure how much to feed your dog, consult with your vet or a canine nutritionist.

10. Deal with any anxiety or stress issues, such as separation anxiety

These problems may lead to unwanted behaviors like counter surfing.

If your pup has any issues stemming from anxiety or stress, you may need to consult a canine behaviorist or positive reinforcement trainer who specializes in such issues.

What Shouldn’t I Do To Correct Counter Surfing?

There are methods that some people use that may work in the short term. But they’ll probably create more problems than they solve.

Don’t set up noise traps or use shock devices

Some trainers use old-fashioned methods like having a pyramid of empty soda cans or pans fall when the dog jumps on the counter. 

He’ll knock them down. And they’ll crash down, maybe even falling on him.

There are also mat-type devices that give a shock when the dog jumps on the counter.

Even if these methods stop your dog from counter surfing, they can have horrible, unwanted side effects.

He may start to have noise phobias. Or he may become afraid of the kitchen. You get the idea.

There are also motion-activated devices that will make a noise when your dog jumps on the counter. This may also have the same unwanted side effects.

There are better ways to teach him not to counter surf.

Don’t correct him after the fact

So you left your sandwich on the counter. You see him happily chomping on it.

It’s too late to correct it. The time to correct it is before he gets it or is in the act.

If he’s near the counter and he’s been taught the command, you can tell him to “leave it” before he grabs the sandwich.

But trying to correct him after he’s scarfed down your lunch won’t help him to leave it next time.

Screaming “NOOOO” 10 minutes later won’t do any good. 

Dogs understand corrections only while they’re performing the undesired behavior or within a few seconds afterwards.

Instead, he may think you’re angry at him for what he’s doing at that time, like sitting. 

Final Thoughts

Prevention is the best solution for counter surfing. Try to manage your dog’s environment so that he can’t get items he shouldn’t have.

But, for a dog who counter surfs, you have to work through the issue by some of the methods discussed above.

Even if you’ve successfully worked with the issue, it’s still advisable to not leave items he may want–including food–out on counters or tables. 

Even the best dog may be tempted to eat the “forbidden fruit.”

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How Do I Stop Counter Surfing? - Chocolate Labrador Retriever counter surfing in the kitchen.
How Do I Stop Counter Surfing?

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How Do I Stop My Dog From Counter Surfing? was last modified: March 7th, 2021 by Debbie

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