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, 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.

  • Set your dog up for success by limiting access to places where food is found. Use baby gates to keep your dog out of the kitchen or crate your dog (with a tasty chew toy) if you’re entertaining and can’t keep an eye on him.
  • Do not set your dog up for failure by allowing him to practice the unwanted behavior. Intermittent rewards are the best way to sustain a behavior, be it good or bad. Occasionally finding food or crumbs on the counter reinforces the behavior.      
  • Do not store food items on the counter. It’s best to place them inside a cabinet.


  • If you are defrosting food, place it in your sink or in your microwave where your dog cannot reach it (or defrost it safely in the refrigerator).


Training ideas

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.

  • Start with your dog on leash and put a plate with a low value food item on the floor. If your dog goes for the plate, you can initially use the “leave it” cue if your dog knows this cue, or just hold on to the leash so he can’t get to the plate. When he looks away from the plate and at you instead, reward with a high value treat. The goal is to have the dog offer this behavior (looking at you) without you having to intervene verbally or via leash.


  • Next, put the plate up on a table or counter. Keep your dog on leash (so you can step on the leash if you need to). Wait for the dog to look at you instead of the food and reward with a high value treat.


  • When initially teaching this, you may need to help the dog by making some sort of noise to redirect him or by moving backwards to encourage him to come to you instead.


  • Start with lower value food items on the table or counter first; then work towards higher value items.


The key is to teach your dog that “four on the floor” is more rewarding than “two on the counter.”


Practice makes perfect.

Luvk9s Dog Training