Counter Surfing: Catching Your Dog in the Act

Does Your Dog Like to Counter Surf and Look for Food?

Dog going under person's armpit at the table looking for what's on their plate.
“Can you give me just a little bit?”

Put yourself in the dog’s paws and place your favorite food on the counter when you are hungry. Now walk past and see if you can resist taking a bite. The most realistic solution to counter surfing is to use a combination of management and training techniques to make it easy for your dog to avoid temptation.

Training Techniques:

  • Blocking access to places where food is left out by using baby gates or putting the dog in another room when you have company means there is no opportunity for your dog to fail.
Boxer jumping over baby gate.
Just make sure they don’t have spring loaded legs!!
  • If this is not a realistic option, you can try tethering your dog to you so that they are with you at all times.
Lab in kitchen leashed with owner.
  • If you are working in the kitchen and unable to use a baby gate, draw an imaginary line along the floor and teach your dog to stay behind that line.
  • To do this, you need to first teach a reliable ‘Stay’ cue so your dog understands what is expected of them.
  • If they cross over the line, gently block them with your body until the go behind the line again. If you reward them at intervals while they stay put, they will see this area as a good place to be.
Chloe sitting on the couch while I'm in the kitchen.
I trained Chloe to lay on the couch while I’m in the kitchen working.

Using the training command “Go To Place” can help tremendous when you don’t your dog in the kitchen. Especially when you are trying to prepare a mean and don’t want a trip hazard of your dog trying to find food you drop!

short-coated brown dog lying in front of closed brown wooden door
“At least I can watch while my human plays with food.”

How to Catch Your Dog In the Act of Stealing Food:

  • Put some food on the counter and then walk away to a place where you can see the food but where your dog thinks he is not being watched.
  • Pick up a magazine or pretend to be doing something else so they think you are not paying attention to them.
Man sitting a table with dog in a kitchen.
“Are you not paying attention to me? Maybe I can sneak some food!”
  • Wait for them to go up to the counter, and just before they jump, ask them to ‘leave it’.
  • If they back away, praise them.
  • If they take the food, calmly remove what is left and repeat the process, putting the food in a less accessible place to make it harder for them to be successful. When they are responding well, gradually move the food back to the place they previously took it from.
  • Start this exercise using low-value food before making it more difficult with the yummy stuff.

What Not To Do:

Some people use ‘scat mats’ to keep their dogs off of countertops and furniture. Although you may see short-term success in that your dog stays off the counter, the trauma of being shocked can cause emotional complications. Your dog may not want to come into the kitchen at all, and could even start having accidents in the house as a result of the stress and anxiety caused by being shocked.

Why Does My Dog Need to Know This?

  • Not only is counter surfing annoying for people, but it is also dangerous for dogs.
  • Stealing food can lead to ingesting plastic wrapping or eating food that is toxic to dogs.