Many dog owners are familiar with their dogs stealing food from kitchen counters or even the dinner table. You turn your back for a moment, and your sandwich or pizza slice has disappeared, and your dog is standing next to the counter, looking innocent but licking their lips. Dog trainers even coined a new term to describe such behavior: counter-surfing.
You have probably watched funny videos of dogs stealing food or even witnessed your dog jumping on the counter and snatching your meal. While pet owners might find counter-surfing dogs cute and amusing, it is potentially a very dangerous habit (just think of your dog thieving something poisonous or knocking over a boiling saucepan). And it is the pet parent's responsibility to take proper preventive measures and learn how to keep dogs off the counter.
Why does my dog counter surf?
When food is left on tables or kitchen countertops, it can become an open invitation for your dog. If your dog has found food on the counter even once, they might keep on jumping up to look for it and feel rewarded after finding something. Here are the reasons why your dog steals food:
It is a perfectly natural behavior for your dog. When your dog steals food, they are acting on instinctual behavior. Food in the wild is scarce, so dogs learned to scavenge to survive.
Dogs counter surf when they are hungry. Need we say more?
A lack of obedience training can lead to this type of behavior. Some dogs steal food simply because they have never been taught that it is inappropriate.
Boredom and a lack of exercise can lead to more thieving and many other behavior problems in pursuit of entertainment.
Thieving may be a symptom of dog separation anxiety. Dogs will often steal things, which have their owner's scent, like socks or shoes. If your dog is left alone for long periods, they might resort to destructive behaviors like stealing food.
How to stop a dog from stealing food off the table?
Our pups just have learned that kitchen counters are an easy source of yummy snacks. Every time your dog steals food, it is rewarded, which strengthens the behavior. If you're tired of losing your dinner to a sneaky pooch every time you turn your back, here are some tips on keeping dogs off counters and tables.
Remove the sources of temptation
The best way to deal with dog counter surfing is by preventing it in the first place. Make sure nothing is on the counter and stash snacks in closed cabinets or the refrigerator. Remember to pick up food items after cooking. If you are a first-time dog owner, you may need to change some of your habits, not leaving food around or removing dirty dishes.
If you must keep food on the counter (a pie cooling down or a spread for a party), push it further back from counter edges to prevent your dog from snatching the food. Alternatively, keep the dog out of the kitchen using a baby gate, or put them in a crate or shut the door.
Keep your dog well-fed
Review what you're feeding your dog and make sure they are getting enough to eat. Also, make sure the problem is not medical. Dozens of factors can change your pup's appetite, including hormonal imbalances, stress, or central nervous system damage. It's your task to keep that your dog is well-fed and doesn't require an extra snack, which might occasionally be on your dinner table.
Only feed your dog from their bowl
You will agree that dogs eating at the dinner table or "hunting" for scraps are cute. However, this is precisely something that you shouldn't allow. Keep your dog from eating human food at the table! Make sure your pup only eats dog food from their bowl. If you really want to share a snack or two, make sure to put it in your dog's bowl.
Do not give food to a begging dog
Dogs begging for food is typical when we eat or cook. They are perfect manipulators. Dogs can come up to the table or counter with their sad, wet eyes, and we want to give them everything they want. We've all been there. We understand. But, realize that might only make them come back more often. Don't feel sorry for your begging dog! Remember that it's well-fed and in no danger of starving.
Keep your dog active
One of the best ways to stop dog counter surfing is providing loads of physical and mental stimulation throughout the day. Nice long walks on the leash, games, and training are all great for this purpose. Sometimes, your dog keeps stealing food just because of boredom. Don't forget that keeping your dog active will help tackle unwanted behaviors, such as stealing food or counter-surfing.
Get a pet treat camera
OK, but how to keep the dog off the table when not home? A pet camera that tosses treats is a great way to monitor your dog's behavior and reward them for being a good boy or girl. Interactive pet cameras usually come with 2-way audio and sound and motion alerts, so if you catch your dog counter surfing or just being naughty, you will know right away and can tell them to stop. Then fling a treat as a reward. Your dog will be excited!
Should I punish my dog for stealing food?
When most people punish their dog, usually the punishment is not strong enough to outweigh the reward they are getting – bacon, cheese, or a hot dog – so your dog will continue to surf.
If you punish your dog for counter surfing, they will only learn not to steal food when you're around. Your dog will simply try to avoid punishment, not because they think that what they're doing is wrong. You will never hear it happening, or it happens so fast you'll be clueless.
Training your dog not to jump on the counter
Jumping on kitchen counters is a hard habit for your puppy to break, but you can train them to stop. Try this:
- With your puppy on a leash, place something tempting on the counter. The moment your puppy looks up to sniff the counter, snap the lead back and say, "No."
- If you catch your dog stealing food, teach your pup to "leave it."
- If your pooch is sniffing around the kitchen, tell them to "go to their place" or "lie down."
Always reward desirable behavior with a treat. Dogs are intelligent, so your pooch will soon realize that the likelihood of getting a treat is higher when they listen to you than when they sneak a snack behind your back.
"Booby trap" training: pros and cons
This method is designed so that your dog learns to associate stealing with an unpleasant consequence. Booby trap objects with taste aversives, cans that fall, or motion detector alarms to teach your puppy to "stay away." At the same time, place highly appealing non-booby-trapped items nearby so that your pet learns safe and acceptable alternatives for chewing and play.
However, dog behavior experts argue that aversive training with booby traps often creates an anxious dog and hinders the human-animal bond. It's a high price to pay. So it's better to train your dog not to jump on counters with less aggressive methods.
Dogs will always be attracted to delicious human food. It's our job as dog owners to teach them good manners and acceptable behavior. Remember that a well-trained dog is a happier dog! Petcube Bites 2 pet camera can help you monitor your furry friend's behavior even when you are away. Check in on your pet from your smartphone anytime, or replay their video history on an interactive timeline to find out what your pet is doing throughout the day.