Many dog owners are familiar with the problem of 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 its lips. Trainers even coined a new term to describe such dog behavior: counter-surfing.
You have probably watched funny videos of dogs stealing food or even witnessed your own 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 train your dog not to jump on 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, it might keep on jumping up to look for it. And they will feel very rewarded when they find something. Here are the reasons why your dog steals food:
- It is a perfectly natural behavior for your dog. When your dog steals food, it is acting on an 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 properly taught that it is inappropriate.
- Boredom and a lack of exercise can lead to more thieving as well as many other behavior problems in pursuit of entertainment.
- The thieving may be a symptom of dog separation anxiety. Dogs will often steal things like socks or shoes, which have the scent of their owner they miss them. If your dog is left alone for long periods, they might resort to destructive behaviours 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 the counters and tables.
Remove the opportunity
The best way to deal with dogs counter surfing is by preventing it in the first place. Make sure nothing is on the counter. Stash snacks and fruits 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 food. Or keep the dog out of the kitchen using a baby gate, or put him in a crate or shut the door.
Keep your dog well fed
To begin with, make sure the problem is not medical. There are illnesses that can increase your pup’s appetite, making them feel hungrier. If you want to know how to stop your dog from jumping on the counter, a vet visit might be a good place to start. Review what you're feeding your dog and make sure it is getting enough to eat.
Only feed your dog from its bowl
We loved that video of a sweatshirt wearing dog eating at the dinner table. However, this is exactly 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 its 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
Provide your dog with loads of physical and mental stimulation throughout the day. Nice long walks on the leash, fun games and training are all great for this purpose.
Get a pet treat camera
A pet camera that gives treats is a great way to monitor your dog’s behavior and reward it for being a good boy or girl. They usually come with 2-way audio and alerts, so if you catch your dog counter surfing or just being naughty, you will know right away and can tell it to stop. Then fling a treat as a reward. Your pooch 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, it will only learn not to steal food when you’re around. You pooch will simply try to avoid punishment, not because it thinks that what it’s doing is wrong. You will either 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 him to stop. Try:
- 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 it to “go to its place” or “lie down”.
Always reward desirable behavior with a treat. Dogs are smart, so your pooch will soon realize that the likelihood of getting a treat is higher when it listens to you than when it sneaks 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! A Petcube 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.