What is counter surfing? Counter surfing is when your dog jumps up on counters and steels items such as bread, dog treats, crumbs, or other items they may find valuable or entertaining.
You are all too familiar with the scene, you left your food on the counter and turned your back for just a second. The moment you turn around your food is gone, and your dog is gulping it down after stealing it. While counter surfing can be fairly innocent, maybe even funny there have been cases of dogs setting houses on fire by accidentally turning on a stove burner while stealing their snack!
Counter surfing is also a self reinforcing behavior, which means that if your dogs attempt at stealing your cupcake off of the counter works then that behavior has been reinforced. When a behavior is reinforcing it will likely increase, making your dog a food stealing machine.
Tip #1- Eliminate The Opportunity to Steal Food
Make sure that your counters are clear of any and everything that your dog might be stealing including food, paper towels, dish rags etc. It does not matter what the item is, if your dog is able to take it off of your counter that is enough to reinforce the behavior. If you have forgetful kids who accidentally leave food out then use a baby gate or their crate when you are not able to supervise them.
Tip #2 - Reward Your Dog for Not Counter Surfing
There are many times throughout the day when you can reward your dog for making better choices. Such as walking up to the counter without jumping on it, in doing so you are teaching your dog that it is more reinforcing not to jump on the counter. Your dog will also begin to offer other behaviors while in the kitchen such as a sit, or a down. When your dog performs behaviors naturally that you like such as laying down in the kitchen while you are cooking you should reward your dog for doing so. When we reward behaviors we like, our dog will over-time offer those behaviors over the unwanted behavior of counter surfing.
Tip #3 - Don't Accidentally Reward Counter Surfing
To a dog attention is attention whether that be negative attention or positive attention. This means that if your dog jumps on the counter and you interact with them in any kind of way (speaking to them, touching them, pushing them off etc) you are reinforcing that behavior. See to a dog it doesn't matter if you are trying to "correct" their behavior they just see it as attention! That is because your dog is amoral, they do not know right from wrong and unfortunately never will. Instead of correcting your dog move objects that they can reach food, towels, napkins etc and wait for your dog to get down. The moment your dog has all feet on the floor say "yes" and reward them with a high value treat. If your dog jumps back up do the same thing, if they continue to keep their paws on the floor reward them often for doing so. You're goal is to teach your dog that all paws on the floor and keeping them there is more reinforcing than counter surfing.
Prevention and Management are Key
Preventing your dog from practicing the behavior is the best and quickest solution for counter surfing. If you can mange your dogs environment by using baby gates or crates when unsupervised you can prevent your dog from stealing objects all together.