Sounds like a sport, right? For many dogs, it is not only a sport but a favourite pastime. Many a juicy steak, roast chicken, or Christmas dinner has come a cropper due to counter surfing, yet you may never have heard the term. It is the act of stealing food from kitchen worktops or counters.
First, let’s talk about why do they do it. No matter how fastidious you are, kitchen counters often smell tasty, so curiosity and natural exploring behaviours often lead to pups trying very hard to find the source of the lovely smells. If they happen to discover something tasty up there, the game is on! It only takes one or two tasty discoveries to make jumping up to view counters a rewarding experience and one worth doing on a regular basis.
So how do you prevent this becoming your dog’s number one sporting activity?
We need to make sure the act of jumping up there is never rewarding. This means good management- being very careful not to leave anything tasty lying around on worktops while you are not there to supervise and never feeding a jumping up dog when you are preparing food - even if you don’t mind sharing some of it.
If your puppy has already gained food from jumping up in this way, you might need a temporary exclusion zone around the food preparation areas.
Teaching other behaviours that can help
If you have taught your pupper ‘place’ this is the perfect opportunity to send them there. If ‘place’ isn’t quite a fully solidified behaviour yet, you can periodically drop a reward in there. If you do this be discrete, don’t use a clicker, the titbit should appear to your pup to have arrived magically.
Off is usually the word we use when we want our puppers to get down off somewhere they shouldn’t be, jumping up, on furniture, at the counters or dining table. To do this we simply say off and wait til all four paws are back on the floor, click and reward when they do. This is best not practiced in the kitchen though as we don’t want clever puppers backchaining and jumping up just so they get rewarded for getting back down. We don’t really want disturbed during meal preparation or to be handling dog treats and our own food, so use off only if it has well understood meaning and your pup is happy to get verbal praise for keeping those paws firmly on the floor.
Leave helps by working on extending your puppers self control, to resist simply grabbing food as soon as it is available. Not only useful for food, but sticks, leaves blowing in the wind, a children’s football or a jogger, anything really that might tempt a puppy to run off and grab.