Counter-Surfing

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Counter-surfing - arguably the greatest fear we have when we bring home a medium or large-breed dog. Or a Lab. 😉 

Dogs who jump on the counter to grab whatever they can find are not bad dogs. I repeat. THEY ARE NOT BAD DOGS. 

Dogs are animals. Dogs are hunters AND scavengers, and most importantly, dogs are opportunists. They see food, they eat food. 

You'll never see a dog in the wild watching a bunny hop by and calmly say "ah, I'm okay, thanks. I'll grab the next one." 

A brown and white dog counter surfing on a kitchen counter.

I want to warn you: most dogs will be "fine" the first few times they watch you prep/eat and then the jumping up, begging, food-snatching, and counter-surfing will happen "out of the blue". Expect it and prevent it. 

Management / Prevention

During meal prep and mealtime, environmental management is key. If you can prevent it from ever occurring, you'll have a MUCH higher chance that your dog will never do it.

Having your dog behind a baby gate, in a crate, in a LTCA - these are your best bets. 

The second level of management is to keep your counters clear. You'll thank me for your wonderfully clean kitchen later. Get the whole family on board and consider even a bread box as a nice way to store items when you have to step away for a moment. 

Training

Instead of counter-surfing, what would you prefer that your dog does during meal-prep and mealtime? Relax on a mat? Sounds divine! 

Follow the Kitchen Manners training and you'll see that it's really easy AND effective! 

What if? 

What if your dog jumps up and grabs something? Eep. That's a big dopamine hit. That's like hitting the jackpot at the casino, so they're going to keep trying that slot machine. You'll have to go back to 100% management and just bite your tongue. That's all you can do. 

What if your dog jumps up and there's nothing to grab? Say nothing. Not a word. Hold your breath. Let the environment deliver. The dog will see that there's nothing, be disappointed, and then be a little less likely to believe that there's a payout next time. So hard, I know...but give it a go. 

What about punishment?

What about it? It's futile! Whatever your dog got off the counter is WAY better than any scary punishment you can deliver. It might make YOU feel good for a second but it won't change your dog's behaviour at all - in fact, it can backfire; they'll wait until you're out of the room so that they can counter-surf and NOT get punished for it. So save your breath, don't bother scolding or swatting, just manage better.

Safety is first, so if your dog got something dangerous (cooked chicken bones, for example) then you'll have to safely retrieve those and try to do it calmly and quietly, but if it's not dangerous, consider it gone. The dopamine hit has already happened and trying to get back that wedge of cheese or half-sandwich is pointless. You're not going to eat it after it's been slobbered on, so let the dog have it and just promise yourself that you'll work smarter next time. Don't give it too much attention. Just clear the counter and get back on track. It's okay. 

Will I ever be able to leave food on the counter or table?

Maybe...or maybe not! Is it something you're willing to risk? I tend to believe that once a counter-surfer always a counter-surfer, so it's best to stick with management. You can train until you're blue in the face but that's not going to take the opportunist out of the dog. 

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