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  • April Schrader, CPDT-KA

5 Reasons Your Dog is Still Counter Surfing

Counter surfing is a behavior where dogs jump up onto countertops or other elevated surfaces in order to search for food or other items of interest. Counter surfing is common in dogs and is driven by curiosity, enticing scents, and the lure of tasty morsels. However, it can become a persistent issue if left unaddressed.

To conquer this challenge, it's essential to identify the underlying reasons why your dog continues to surf the counters. Let's explore the 5 reasons your dog is still counter surfing so you can conquering this unwanted behavior once and for all.

5 REASONS Your Dog is Counter Surfing:

  1. Inadvertent Rewards: When your dog successfully steals food or other items from the counter, they receive an unintended reward. The stolen item serves as a positive reinforcement for counter surfing.

  2. Owner Interaction: If you interact with your dog in any way when they steal food, you're providing attention and engagement. Dogs will interpret this interaction as positive reinforcement and continue the behavior to seek your attention.

  3. Lack of Management: If your counters consistently have items within reach, your dog will learn that frequently counter surfing results in favorable outcomes. Lack of management will reinforce the behavior

  4. Unsupervised Access: Leaving the kitchen unattended while cooking or leaving food within reach sets your dog up to counter surf. Dogs are impulsive and If your dog repeatedly is victorious this behavior has a satisfying outcome, making it reinforcing.

  5. Inadequate Training: A lack of training and alternative behaviors might leave your dog with no clear guidance on what they should do instead. They may revert to counter surfing out of boredom or curiosity.

What NOT to do:

  • Don't be inconsistent with training: Ensure that all family members use the same cues and force-free methods.

  • Don't use harsh methods: Positive reinforcement works best; avoid punishment-based training.

  • Don't leave tempting items in their reach: It's unfair to expect your dog to know they shouldn't jump onto the counter or grab items that are within their reach. Your dog is NOT capable of understanding right from wrong.

  • Do not talk, touch, or correct your dog: Refrain from speaking, making physical contact, or providing corrections to your dog. Engaging with your dog in any of these ways will inadvertently reinforce the behavior and exacerbate the situation. When you interact with your dog while they engage in an undesirable behavior, you are unintentionally signaling your approval of their actions, encouraging them to continue the behavior.

What you SHOULD do:

  • Do ignore the behavior: When your dog jumps on the counter or shows interest in items, refrain from any reactions, scolding, or direct interaction.

  • Do remove temptation: Without interacting with your dog swiftly remove any food or items that your dog might find appealing from the counter.

  • Do move away: If your dog does jump on the counter, once removing any items calmly move away, signaling that this behavior doesn't lead to any engagement or reward.

  • Do use positive reinforcement: Whenever your dog chooses not to jump on the counter or approaches it without doing so, click and treat them. Rewarding good choices will encourage better behavior overtime

  • Do set up prevention measures: If you find it challenging to keep your counters clear, use baby gates or confine your dog to a safe space like their crate when you can't supervise them. This prevents them from accessing tempting items.

  • Do teach your dog 'leave it': This cue plays a vital role in eliminating counter surfing behavior. This cue serves as a clear means of communication with your dog, signaling that you want them to walk away from any item that piques their interest.

  • Do teach your dog 'place': This cue is a powerful tool in curbing counter surfing tendencies. This cue provides a clear way to instruct your dog to go to their designated spot, helping to redirect their attention while teaching them an alternative behavior.

To effectively combat counter surfing, it's crucial to recognize the five main reasons behind it: inadvertent rewards, owner interaction, lack of management, unsupervised access, and inadequate training. Understanding these motivations, allows you to take the right steps towards address them. Avoid inconsistent training, harsh methods, and leaving temptations within reach while embracing positive reinforcement, ignoring the behavior, removing enticing items, and employing prevention measures. Teaching your dog cues such as "leave it' and 'place', these cues provide clear communication, allowing your dog to make better choices, leading to a more harmonious living environment.

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