What is counter surfing? Counter surfing is a term that was coined to describe what a dog does when he jumps on the kitchen counter – or dining room table – to steal food.
Do you live with a canine counter surfer?
Why do dogs counter surf?
Even though dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, Vetstreet.com notes that the behavior of scavenging or eating leftover food “is so deeply ingrained in canines that it’s second nature … there is evidence that the earliest dogs were wolves who scavenged from human settlements thousands of years ago.”
Even the best-behaved dog may give in to temptation if delectable smelling food is left unattended.
While working as after-care coordinator for a local service dog organization, I received a call from a client who was upset because her service dog had jumped on the kitchen counter and devoured hot dogs that were left there to defrost. The client then admitted that she had not taken the dog with her that day and that she left the dog locked in the kitchen – alone – for several hours.
I didn’t blame the dog; the dog was rarely left home alone and never locked in the kitchen. Having worked with this dog, I was positive he would not have counter surfed if only left alone a short period of time. But after several hours passed, I think his inner wolf kicked in!
What not to do
While the use of products such as ‘scat mats’ (that deliver a static charge) or the ‘snappy trainer’ (a mouse-trap type of device that flies off the counter to scare the dog when he jumps up) may work initially, they can backfire. Many a trainer has been called to help an owner whose dog will no longer enter the kitchen because the room now terrifies him.
Management and training are key
Putting an end safely to counter surfing involves management and training.
While counter-surfing is an incredibly self-rewarding behavior, you can teach your dog that it’s more beneficial to stay on the floor. Teach your dog an incompatible cue like “down/stay” or “go to your place” while you are in the kitchen preparing food and randomly reward him with a treat for staying put. Your dog will quickly learn that staying in place is an easier way to get food rewards.
Once your dog gets good at this, practice leaving the kitchen for just a few seconds initially and then build up to a longer period. Reward with high value treats every time you return to the kitchen.
Another variation of this method can be viewed on YouTube.
The key is to teach your dog that “four on the floor” is more rewarding than “two on the counter.”
Practice makes perfect.