Different size dogs bring different challenges and issues. If you’ve got a little pooch, he’s under your feet and probably getting into things under the bed. If you have a larger dog you have an entire different set of problems.
One big one I get called for a lot is counter surfing. You know when your dog puts his two big front paws up on the counter to see if anything yummy is up there. Or, even better, when he jumps right on top of the counter and/or tables to take a look a sniff and a lick.
Although this is typically a problem for the big guys, those little fur balls can get up there too if they’re properly motivated and have something to climb up on. Just about every dog owner has a story of leaving their lunch on the table for a second or defrosting something for dinner on the counter, and coming back to find only crumbs and paw prints.
Can we really blame our dogs though? It smells so darn good and is so tempting just sitting there unattended.
No, we can’t really blame them but we can train them. If you put in a little time and effort you can teach your dog to leave your countertops alone and respect your wishes to actually be the one eating those scrumptious treats.
The first line of defense is, obviously, not to leave your dog unattended while there are snacks on the counter. Seems like an easy one but so many people just assume their dog will be good. Not me. I say assume that he’s going to try to eat anything that smells yummy to him. He’s a dog and he’s going to do what dogs do. And dogs like to eat things that smell good. So when you can’t supervise your dog you must remove the temptations or keep your dog out of the kitchen.
Puppy proofing is a good management technique but will do very little to actually treat the issue. If you want to be able to trust your dog in the kitchen, then we need to work with him there.
You need to teach your dog what’s appropriate in the kitchen and correct any attempt to counter surf. The thing to remember is that the sooner you catch a dog down the path to a specific bad behavior, the easier it is to turn him around and the less you have to do to get him to withdraw. Once your dog has his paws on the counter you can remove him but you’ve taught him nothing.
You need to watch him (maybe even bait him with something yummy smelling on the counter) and watch when he gets that first glimmer in his eye at the counter. Then you give a quick verbal correction (I use a sharp “hey” or ehhh). If you successfully caught him in the beginning of his thought and action process, that might work fine. If not, you should move in between him and the counter (the resource) and walk into his space, backing him up.
Basically, you’re a goalie protecting the counter from your dog, BUT you have to be a calm goalie, moving slowly with confidence. You’re simply communicating to your dog that he does not have access to the kitchen right now. You may have to repeat this a few times. You want to get to the point where you can move aside and your dog has an open path to the counter but doesn’t take it. The real key here is to catch him as early in this thought process as you can.
Teaching an Alternate Behavior
Another thing you can do (or do it in addition to the above technique) is to show your dog exactly what you want him to do in this situation. This works really well if it happens at a regular time, like when you’re making dinner.
Teach your dog to sit/stay or down/stay while you’re in the kitchen making dinner. You first start practicing this when there’s no food on the counter and you’re not busy making a meal. Then, once you’ve shaped the sit/stay with some repetitions you can work on it with some food, then finally while you’re actually cooking
It’s very important to practice this before you really need it and make sure you’re constantly rewarding your dog with some yummy treats for the sit/stay.
Soon whenever you go in the kitchen to cook, your dog will automatically go to his spot – because that’s the most rewarding spot in the house – the place where he gets free delivery for just sitting there. For a dog, it doesn’t get any better than that.