3 Ways to Combat Counter Surfing - Remove, Redirect, Reward

Photo by LucBrousseau/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by LucBrousseau/iStock / Getty Images


Counter surfing, this all too frequent dog behavior is actually quite natural.  In order to curb counter surfing it’s important to understand the potential reasons for the behavior as well as some ways to combat this unwanted circumstance or to reshape their behavior.

Why Does My Dog Counter Surf?

Counter surfing is a dog’s drive to cruise counters and tables for food items – not just objects. Objects would fall under the category of attention seeking, while food is a much more primal drive.

·      Seeking food is a primary instinct for dogs as well as other animals on the planet, so it’s no surprise that when a dog smells something yummy on top of the counter, it may be something that requires investigation.

·      Your dog has been successful before in finding food on a counter top or a table either because food was left on a counter and they found it, or you fed them scraps as you were cooking. This has now been established as a hunting ground.

·      It’s a high value reward, and thus something your dog is seeking. Let’s face it, your most food motivated dogs are the ones who become counter surfers.

How Can I Deal with This?

The main wait to combat counter surfing is simply to remove the temptation. This works 99.9% of the time, however it means we need to make a change in our own behavior. Even if a dog is taught to leave food on a table or during training on the floor, when left unsupervised, that training may only go so far. Why set your dog up for failure?

Remove – Control the environment. Why set your dog up for failure? It is up to us as dog owners to change our behavior.  If you have a habit of keeping bread, pastries, etc. on the counter tops move them to inaccessible locations. (This does not mean the back of the counter.)  Ideal locations are away in pantries, refrigerators – on top or inside – inside the microwave, the oven. Anywhere that will best remove the temptation. Do not feed scraps to your dog from the table or the counter top.

Redirect – The truth is, if you are cooking and a dog smells those amazing smells we have all likely experienced dogs under foot. Redirecting their actions and activity to another diversion is key in safely cooking without a dog in your cooking space, or worse…on a counter. Teaching a dog to go to their bed, their place, or to play in another room can be done through effort and household cooperation.

Reward – As you are teaching your dog to utilize a different behavior such as going to their place, make sure you reward them with high value treats (not from your counter tops) for complying with your training. Reinforce this with clicker training, and soon you will be able to redirect your dog out of the kitchen while you are preparing food.

Can I Train the Dog Not to Counter Surf?

Well, again, short of removing the temptations training is a difficult thing. There are 4 phases when a dog counter surfs. When the spot the food, when they put their paws up on the counter to investigate the food, when the dog grabs the food, and when they eat the food.

If you are not catching the dog in the early phases and using positive ways to redirect them, your corrections will be frustrating and ineffective. Yelling at a dog once they have jumped on the counter, pulled the food down, or eaten it, won’t compute to your pup.

You need to find ways to positively redirect the dog when it discovers there is food on the counter. If you see the dog move to the counter, or jump on the counter, plug a dog treat into his nose and lure him off or away from the counter. When his feet hit the ground say yes or click and give him the treat. After much practice incorporate the command off.

But let’s face it, we don’t want to entice our dog to jump on the counter in order to train the off command. In reality we don’t often see when our dogs jump on the counter because it is a crime of opportunity. Rather than driving yourself insane with this behavior. Remove the temptation, redirect them to their place when you are cooking, and reward their good behavior.

On a side note, sometimes rescue dogs are persistent counter surfers because they had to scavenge for food. Who knows how long they may have been strays. Or under fed because they were not well treated in their previous circumstances. But over time, as they realize they have a consistent food source, with a loving family, and no longer have to forage – you may see their behavior dissipate. But it can take months and months or even years.