The kitchen countertop is a treasure trove for dogs. Over time, they learn to associate the countertop as the place where all the yummy stuff come from. From the mouth-watering Thanksgiving turkey to the weekend pot roast you prepared for your guests, the kitchen counter is a wonderful resource. Some pet parents may find it amusing to see their dogs jumping onto the counter and “gobbling” up all the food they can get. But this behavior is something that no dog owner should ever encourage. Kitchen counter surfing, whether cute or not, is still an act of thieving. Anything that resembles “stealing” is never good. The good news is that there are several tips you can adhere to if you want to put a stop to your dog’s counter surfing adventures.
Keep Your Kitchen Countertop Clean
Every time your pet hops onto the counter and finds food, it realizes that the countertop is a bountiful resource. As such, the dog will continue doing the behavior since it knows it has found the resource that will ensure its survival. Over time, this reinforces the dog’s “thieving” behavior.
If you want to correct your dog’s counter surfing behavior, then you should remove the “opportunity” in the first place. This opportunity is the “food” that’s left over on the counter. As such, it is important to keep the counter free of any object that resembles food for your dog.
Of course, preparing your meals is a different matter. You will still place food ingredients on the countertop. However, once you’re done cooking, it is crucial that you keep all of the remaining food ingredients in their proper place. Transfer the cooked food onto serving plates and dishes so you can place them immediately on the dining table. If this is not possible, then using cookware with tamper-proof lids should help keep your food secure.
Not only are you going to take care of cooked meals. It is also important to wipe the countertop clean. Food drippings and other stains on the counter can leave odors that your dog will pick up. Sure, the dog will not have food to “get”, but this will entice it to explore further. Instead of propping its hind legs on the kitchen floor, it may jump straight onto the countertop. It will do this because the dog wants to know where the source of that odor is.
The idea is simple. If your dog doesn’t find food every time it “surfs” on the counter, then it is not getting rewarded for its exploits. Sooner or later, it will stop doing the behavior altogether.
Deter Your Dog from Counter Surfing
There are some pet parents who say that punishing a counter surfing dog is important to make it stop. It is rather unfortunate that there are no clear rules or guidelines as to what kind of “punishment” is enough to make the dog stop without causing distress to the dog. One has to keep in mind that punishing a dog is never fun, both for the pet and its human parent.
If the punishment is too harsh, it can cause distress in the dog. This can lead to behavioral problems that can complicate the counter surfing behavior in the pet. If the punishment is too little, then it might not be effective at all. Furthermore, there is such a thing as individuality among dogs. The type and severity of punishment may work on one dog but may not work on another pet.
Regardless, there are some activities you can do to somehow deter your pet from counter surfing.
The Sticky Tape Trap
This method leverages on the role of surprise in deterring a dog from putting its paws on the counter. Get a double-sided adhesive tape and stick this along the edge of the countertop.
When your dog mounts onto the counter, it will rest its paws on the sticky side of the double-sided adhesive tape. This is not going to hurt your dog, but it sure is not a pleasant feeling either.
Spring a trap by placing a bowl or plate of food on the counter. Meanwhile, get ready with a noisemaker such as a whistle or a blow horn. Timing is critical. What you want is to make the loud noise the moment your canine friend goes for the food and not after the food is already in its mouth. If the dog already has the food, don’t bother making a loud noise. Hence, vigilance is key.
The moment you see your pet heading towards the food, make as loud a noise as you can. This will startle your dog and stop it on its tracks. Give verbal correction such as “no”. Do not let your dog get the food.
Spring this trap several times throughout the day and for several days. It should be enough to teach your dog not to go anywhere near the countertop if it does not want to experience unpleasant sensations.
Use Dog Gates
If your kitchen connects to the rest of the house via an open passageway, then installing dog gates can come in handy. There are products that are very easy to install, requiring only the tightening of suction cups against the wall. This provides a barrier between your kitchen and the rest of the house where your dog may be present.
One can also use these gates across doorways. It prevents your dog from gaining access to whatever is on your kitchen countertop. At the same time, the large grates give your pet plenty of opportunity to see you from the other side of the gate.
Train Your Pet to Go and Stay in Its Place
More often than not, your dog will come to the kitchen counter during food preparation. It may not surf the counter yet, but the cooking can already provide it with enough motivation to do so. Whether or not your dog is mounting the counter, it should still not be present in the kitchen while you’re busy preparing food. As such, you need to train your pet to go in its “special” place and stay there.
This is where crate training is important. If a dog is crate-trained early in its life, then you can always ask it to go in its crate every time you are doing something in the kitchen. But it is never too late. Here is what you can do to teach your pet to go and stay in its special place.
Place your pet’s dog bed or dog mat near the kitchen counter. If your dog enters the scene to “investigate’ what you’re cooking, toss a doggie treat in its mat or dog bed. This will distract your pet towards the treat and not on what you’re doing. Once your canine pal grabs the treat with its mouth, mark the behavior by saying “good boy!” or “good girl!”
Do this several times until your dog goes to the bed or mat the moment it enters the kitchen. Once it has settled in its “place”, mark the behavior and toss it its treat.
By the time your pet is consistent in going to its “special” place, you should add another command like “go to your place” and “stay in your place”. Use the same treat-enticing actions to teach your dog what you want it to accomplish. Over time, you can increase the distance of the bed or mat from the kitchen counter while also reducing the number of reinforcements.
Teach Your Dog the “Leave It” Command
Teaching your pet dog the “leave it” command is ideal for canines that have a knack for snatching food from the counter. The point here is to train your pet to release whatever it is trying to get.
To start, place a yummy treat in your hands and close your fist. Make sure your pet saw you put the treat in your hand. As an alternate measure, open your hand so that the dog sees the treat. The moment it starts walking towards the treat, close your hand. If your dog tries to get the treat from your hand, say “leave it”.
The dog will keep on trying to get the treat. Do not open your hand. Once it stops trying, say “good boy!”, open your hand and give the treat. Do this many times until your pet canine “gets” it.
If your dog is already consistent in “leaving” the treat in your hand alone, it’s time to put it to the test. Place some food on the counter and wait for your dog to approach it. Issue the “leave it” command. It should stop dead on its tracks. As an alternative method, entice it to move away from the counter. Once it does, then reward it with a treat. Always treat your pet in another part of your home.
Teaching your pet canine to stop surfing the counter is more about eliminating the “opportunity” to “steal” food from the counter. You can remove food from the counter, prevent access to the kitchen, or train your dog to leave the countertop alone.