Has your dog ever jumped up on the counter and stolen a snack or two? This behavior is easily created (simply by leaving food out), but a bit harder to curb! You see, dogs do what works! So when they successfully steal a tasty treat off the counter a few times, you bet they are going to continue trying!
So what do we do?
First things first. Prevention is important!
Prevention tip #1: Try not to leave anything out on the counter unattended. I know this is easier said than done, but it makes a big difference!
Prevention tip #2: A dog that isn’t in the kitchen, can’t counter surf! By teaching your dog that the kitchen area is off limits, you will greatly reduce if not eliminate the counter surfing issue. Depending on how your home is set up, you may choose to have the kitchen entirely off limits, or maybe the dog is only allowed in upon invitation (for example if they need to go through the kitchen area to go outside). Teaching an “Out” command is very helpful!
What if prevention fails?
Well, it’s up to us to set our dogs up for success, so as much as possible, we want to prevent the behavior from being a possibility. But, when life happens and prevention fails, we need to help our dogs understand that jumping up on the counter is NOT rewarding. They have already learned that the opposite is true (goodies are up there), so we need to focus on re-training them. This means that you need to provide an appropriate consequence for counter surfing when there is inevitably something on the counter. For most dogs, a great consequence for counter surfing is a time out. Dog jumps on counter, you say “Ah, Ah!” and immediately remove your dog from the counter and put him in a time out behind a nearby closed door for 15-30 seconds. What you are effectively telling your dog is that if you jump up on the counter, you will be immediately removed from the room, the goodies, and any social interaction.
But my dog only does it when I’m not looking (or not home)…
If your dog is only counter surfing when you aren’t in the room, I recommend setting up a sting operation. Through strategically placed mirrors or even two phones (tablets etc) on Skype, you need to set up a way to see the dog when he doesn’t think you can. Then once he jumps up on the counter, you immediately from the next room say “Ah, Ah!” and come to provide the time-out. He will learn that even if he thinks you couldn’t possibly see him, the consequences still happen. The same goes for if you dog complies with the out of the kitchen rule when you are in eyesight, but sneaks in when he thinks you can’t see him.
If your dog is only counter surfing when you aren’t home, prevention is easy! Crate your dog, confine him to another room, gate off the kitchen, don’t leave anything out etc. You could mess with scat mats or remote collars with boundary pucks, but why resort to shocking your dog (and risking injury when you aren’t home) when management is so simple?