As a dog trainer, I hear stories of pups stealing food from the kitchen counter or dinner table often. Here’s just one example: One of my new friends, who is also a great cook, called and said she was making her special breakfast sandwiches the other day — the type of sandwich where essentially a whole breakfast is wrapped in a bun and baked, including bacon. Just thinking about how good it is, it’s all I can do to keep myself from salivating like Pavlov’s dog when a bell rings.
Then she went on to tell me that on this particular morning she dumped gravy all over those breakfast sandwiches. She had them ready to serve on a plate and set them on the kitchen counter. By this time, I could smell those sandwiches through the phone like they were coming from my own kitchen. She said she turned her back for a second to grab napkins when Kirby, her very smart and bold adolescent Golden Retriever, decided they smelled way too tempting. Kirby is scent-driven and loves things in her mouth. So Kirby and her big paws scaled the counter to snatch the sandwiches right off of the plate. Kirby was even so bold as to try to lick as much additional gravy as possible! And I don’t blame her one bit.
The Making Of A Counter Surfer
Kirby was born a counter surfer. From the moment she could associate that something great was going on up there, which was generally the case, being on all fours meant she was left out of the fun and a smell that was intoxicating. Her parent made the mistake early on in Kirby’s puppyhood of giving Kirby a taste of whatever she was making on the counter, dog healthy or not. Therefore, she inadvertently built a very strong positive association with Kirby and the countertop. Kirby felt entitled to whatever was on the counter and, because she had never been instructed to work for her rewards, helped herself to items on the counter often. The more Kirby grew, which was very tall and very strong for her breed, the easier it got to grab the goods off the counter. Tired and frustrated, her parent finally gave in and asked for help.
The Training Solution
Much training occurred with Kirby during her adolescence to undo what occurred as a puppy. And although she still loves the counter, her continued training in self-composure has been the key to success. Kirby has learned to take the lead from her parent, who is Kirby’s director of action for the household. Kirby knows that she is to maintain her position until her owner gives her positive instruction to move, and at that time where to move. Then Kirby is rewarded. It took Kirby awhile—months, actually—to master self-composure. But with patience and guidance from her owner, learning a few new tricks and a consistent family schedule, Kirby has become an observer of the counters, instead of an unwelcome invader.
Does your young dog jump on your counter like Kirby? Well, just to put you at ease, 99 percent of the cases I train involve redirecting counter surfing or table scaling on some level. Even one of my 11-pound dogs figured out how to jump on top of my kitchen counter due to her obsession with a stick of butter she knows I harbor there for cooking.
Therefore, I state loud and proud, please don’t feel alone, like your dog is the only one who does this. From puppy to senior, I’d like to believe that people are not the ones responsible for teaching dogs how to counter surf like Kirby’s owner did. If you are guilty, don’t fear. There is a solution. If you can commit to being patient, we can train your dog to put his focus on you, and you can utilize a command to instruct your dog to leave the things you want him to stay away from that are harmful.
Tips For Training
Patience and consistency are needed for any training. Use these with the following tips to stop a counter-surfing dog.
Find the why and take away temptation.
Knowing the reason your dog is surfing the counter is important, so pay attention to why and when your dog is about to counter surf. You can even “set up” your counter and catch your dog in the act. Don’t say anything to your dog unless you catch him in the act, and when you do get lucky enough to catch him, redirect him to a safe area and remove the object of desire. The best way to achieve a less important counter is to remove all items that tempt your dog to want to look on the counter in the first place.
Determine your dog’s motivating factors so you can win his focus and he wants to follow your lead. It could be food, a certain toy, your kitchen towels or even something as simple as your praise and attention. Find whatever really grabs your dog’s attention. Use this as a reward for your dog when he maintains self-composure no matter what is going on to possibly distract him.
Your dog is an individual.
Work with your dog’s personality when choosing your method of training. Keep it positive at all times. There are many methods available to solve training issues, such as clicker training and reward-based training. Just spend time finding what motivates your dog to do the right things and keep up the consistency.
Two must-train commands.
Because your dog is already jumping, train him that the counter is overrated with the “leave it” command and the “focus” command. These commands are two of the most fundamental commands that set boundaries with your dog. They tell him that it is unsafe to proceed, and he needs to focus on you for further instruction. These commands work with most breeds. When these commands are established, they ensure a safe, happy dog and owner.
Meal preparation takes your attention away. One solution while you begin training new behaviors is to crate or kennel your dog while you are in the kitchen working with food. At the very least, sequester them away from the kitchen especially during times when you are likely to spill or drop something harmful to your dog’s health and safety, like onion or a sharp knife.
Kirby’s Happy Ending
Kirby was stubborn, so we utilized the crate method during people mealtime and gave her a chew toy to enjoy. She is given two commands before her own dinnertime, which are “focus” and “leave it.” She is only fed from her bowl and dog treats are limited to special occasions. Then, due to her high energy level, she began agility training to work her physically and mentally so that she would be fulfilling a purpose. Because, as we all know, a mentally and physically tired dog is a balanced, happy and well-behaved dog. Your dog and your counters will thank you.
By: Geralynn Cada