Do you want to stop your dog from counter surfing? Does your dog jump all over your counters? Do you have to put your food all the way back? If so, we have some tips for you to work on counter surfing dog training!
Teaching your dog not to counter surf provides more control in the house and can keep your dog safe! Thousands of dogs die yearly or need expensive surgeries when they ingest something dangerous!
Do dogs grow out of counter surfing?
To put it bluntly: maybe. Whether or not a dog "grows out of" counter surfing behavior can vary from dog to dog and depends on a few factors.
- Age and Maturity: In some cases, dogs may outgrow counter surfing as they mature and their behaviors become more settled. Puppies and young dogs are often more curious and energetic, which can contribute to this behavior. As they age and learn self-control, the behavior might diminish.
- Breed and Personality: Some breeds are more prone to counter surfing due to their natural instincts or energy levels. High-energy breeds or breeds with strong food motivation might be more likely to engage in counter surfing behaviors.
- Medical or Behavioral Issues: Rarely, counter surfing can be related to medical or behavioral issues. If a dog is excessively counter surfing despite training, consult a veterinarian to rule out any underlying issues.
In summary, some dogs may outgrow counter surfing as they mature. That being said, it may not happen or not happen quickly enough for the sake of your sanity. Therefore, combining proper training, management, and consistency is more effective in changing this behavior. If this behavior continues or is causing issues, seeking guidance from a veterinarian or a professional dog trainer is recommended.
Why is my dog counter surfing all of a sudden?
There are many reasons that a dog may start counter surfing when previously you could trust them with food out. It's essential to consider both environmental and medical factors. Here are some potential reasons:
- Change in Routine or Environment: Dogs are sensitive to changes in their environment or routine. A sudden change, such as a new family member, a move to a new house, or changes in your schedule, may stress your dog and lead to new behaviors like counter surfing.
- Hunger or Dietary Changes: Counter surfing can also happen if your dog is not getting enough food or has had recent changes in their diet, like a new food. This may make them more inclined to search for food on counters.
- Lack of Exercise or Mental Stimulation: Dogs need physical and mental stimulation to stay content and well-behaved. If your dog is not getting enough exercise or mental enrichment, they might resort to unwanted behaviors like counter surfing.
- Attention-Seeking: Dogs sometimes engage in undesirable behaviors to get attention from their owners. If your dog has learned that counter surfing receives a reaction from you, they might repeat the behavior for attention.
- Medical Issues: Sudden behavioral changes sometimes are linked to medical problems. For instance, if your dog is experiencing discomfort or pain, they might engage in unusual behaviors like counter surfing. It's a good idea to rule out any medical issues with a visit to the veterinarian.
- Age and Development: Sometimes, behaviors like counter surfing that your dog suppressed during puppyhood can resurface during adolescence as dogs test boundaries and actively explore their environment.
- Unintentional Reinforcement: If your dog has been inadvertently rewarded for counter surfing in the past (for example, finding food scraps on the counter), they might have learned that the behavior leads to rewards.
How to stop a dog from counter surfing
There are many ways to change your dog's behavior; that's why there are so many trainers! Regardless of how you go about it, these three concepts are vital to your success:
- Training and Reinforcement: Consistent training and reinforcement play a significant role in curbing counter surfing behavior. If you consistently teach that counter surfing is unacceptable, they will learn not to steal food anymore.
- Management: Prevent access to countertops when you are not watching. With management techniques (like using baby gates, keeping counters clear of tempting items, etc.) you can reduce opportunities for counter surfing. Doing this during times you cannot be vigilant or spend time working with your dog is the key to success.
- Consistency: One of the most critical factors in addressing counter surfing is consistency. If the behavior is sometimes allowed or not consistently addressed, the dog may continue the behavior.
How to stop a dog from counter surfing the Suburban K9 way
When fixing this and many other behaviors, we address it in two ways, proactively and reactively. To be proactive, we want to work with the dog daily, giving them jobs. Alternatively, with reactive training, we will set up a situation where we see the dog counter surf and teach them that it is bad behavior. Follow our steps below for how our expert dog trainers work on this with our clients!
As with correcting any poor behavior, we recommend teaching your dog the basic obedience commands to get a decent training foundation under their collar. You should not simply try to correct or praise away a behavior. For many bad behaviors, not just counter surfing, you can tell a dog "NO!" a million times, and it might not stop the behavior.
We recommend starting and establishing a solid heel walk, then working on your dog's obedience. Once they understand these skills better, you will have a well mannered dog that is more tired, calmer, and respects you more! To start this process, you need to start with a leash and collar on. This command gives you more control and lets you stop your dog sooner if they try to jump on the counter. Eventually, we will work away from having to use a leash and collar. Obviously, the end goal is to be able to trust your dog and be entirely off leash. Check out our video on reinforcing your dog's obedience commands here!
Set up the counter surfing
Once your dog has a good foundation of obedience work, now it's time for your dog to begin practicing their manners. Set your dog up on a leash and collar, and place your alluring piece of food on the counter's edge as bait. If your dog goes to jump on the counter, we flag this with a verbal "no" and give them a correction on the leash and collar. How stern we are with our verbal "no," and the correction depends on your dog's demeanor and level of training!
A soft no and a tug are enough for some dogs, but other dogs require us to be more strict. To perform our correction, after we give our verbal no, we will apply a quick tug up on the leash and collar. We want to make sure we see a change in mindset; if we do not, either repeat the correction or heel your dog away to calm them down.
As always, when practicing corrections with a dog, we must monitor their behavior and ensure we are not crossing a line by scaring them. We should just be giving enough of a correction that gets their attention and communicates that they did something wrong, not scaring them and causing them to fear us.
Mistakes are ok, but you should supervise your dog when you are in the beginning stages. We will eventually start trusting our dog out of the room, but there is no rush with this process. We recommend using their food, snacks, lunch meat, or cheese when practicing this! One reason is that they will not get sick if they eat it. If you start with a higher value item, we want to ensure you do not become sad when they beat you to it!
How to stop a dog from counter surfing when not home
I know, this all sounds good for when you're in the room, but what about when you leave? Do not worry; it's all part of the process.
Once you get to the point where your dog will not counter surf when you are in the room, we begin practicing after you leave. Set up a webcam, baby monitor, or even your phone, tablet, or laptop on a video call so you can observe what's happening in the kitchen.
Leave the room and repeat all the same actions if you see your dog going for the food. This will help teach them that they must always behave, not just when you're around.
Eventually, they will behave no matter where you are in the house. Finally, it is time to start practicing when you are not home. When you have everything set up, go to leave the house. Go through your customary rituals, grab your keys or purse, and head out the door you usually use when leaving home. Besides eventually removing the leash, an excellent way to advance this process is to try lower surfaces like a coffee table. Remember, keep practicing these exercises until your dog has gained your trust that they will leave food alone on the counter.
Can I give my dog human food if I want to fix counter surfing?
Keep in mind we are not saying dogs can not have human food. We want to make sure your dog knows that not everything is theirs! Keep in mind if you feed your dog human food, this will make it more difficult to fix counter surfing. Even so, this does not make it impossible; it will just require more work.
If you have a dog that counter surfs or shows other naughty behaviors, contact us for help! We would love to help you with your dog's issues! Our Dog Boot Camp and In-Home dog training programs are highly tailored to give you and your dog the best life possible. Our approach focuses on obedience commands, leash walking, off leash training, in-home behaviors, socializing, and many other training goals. For more information, please visit our website today!