4 Ways to Stop Your Dog From Counter-Surfing for Food

Written by Sharon Parry
Published: November 25, 2023
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Is your dog a counter-surfer? When you turn your back, do they have their front paws on the counter licking their lips and pinching food? Or are they so agile that they leap up with all four paws on the counter? Dogs are opportunists, and this canine behavior troubles many dog owners, but you’ll be pleased to know that there are several ways to stop your dog from counter-surfing.

Why do dogs counter-surf?

Dogs are quick to learn the easiest way of getting food. Your counters look like an all-you-can-eat buffet for your dog. Even if they are too small to see up there, dogs have a fantastic sense of smell and will know that counters are where the food is! Once they have reached up and obtained food in this way, they will be very keen to repeat the experience. It is called self-rewarding behavior. But they are being rewarded for this behavior, so they will do it again.

Why stop your dog from counter-surfing?

Apart from the fact that it’s annoying and you could lose your meal, counter-surfing is unsuitable for dogs. Plenty of human food items, including grapes, chocolate, and garlic, are poisonous for dogs. You should be able to place these on your counter without the risk of your dog eating them. Also, dogs that counter-surf do not have boundaries and do not realize that there are some things that they should not touch. Finally, having dirty paws and dog tongues on the counter is not strictly hygienic!

Consistency is vital

Whichever of the following techniques you use, everybody in the household must be on board. Consistency is essential when changing any dog’s behavior. Vigilance is also necessary. When you are not monitoring your dog’s behavior in the kitchen, keep them out of the kitchen.

So, let’s take a closer look at the five ways to stop your dog from counter-surfing for food.

Limit Access to the Kitchen

Cute mixed breed dogs standing on hind legs behind safety gate and waiting for food at home

You can keep dogs out of the kitchen using gates and barriers.

©Alex Zotov/Shutterstock.com

It becomes a habit once dogs realize they can obtain food by counter-surfing. This needs to be broken. Start by limiting their access to the kitchen using gates and barriers. When they are older, they can learn not to cross an imaginary line at the kitchen entrance.

With a new puppy, it’s best not to let them obtain food from the counter in the first place by keeping them out of the kitchen. Counter-surfing is self-rewarding, so you must remove access to the reward!

Make Counters Less Tempting

Dog eying a roasted chicken on a counter

Food left on counters is very tempting for dogs!

©iStock.com/adogslifephoto

Dogs are drawn to counters by their sense of smell, so stop your counters from smelling so yummy. Don’t keep food on counters – store it in containers in a cupboard or in the refrigerator. Wipe up spillages and crumbs immediately so that if your dog does lick them, they are not rewarded with a pleasant taste.

Give Your Dog a Job to Do

Beautiful German Shepard dog sleeping in a comfy bed

Your dog’s job is to stay in their bed when you are cooking.

©Stephm2506/Shutterstock.com

Dogs can constantly get under your feet when you are cooking. Even if they are not counter-surfing, this can be inconvenient and dangerous. So, teach your dog to go to their bed (or some other place) when food preparation is underway. Start by tossing some treats in their bed, and when they investigate, reward them by saying ‘yes’ or marking it with a clicker. Once they start heading to the bed without a prompt, introduce the ‘bed’ command. Gradually increase the length of time that they will stay in their bed. You can help this process by giving them a food-stuffed toy that slowly releases food while in bed. Finally, ‘proof’ the command by adding the three Ds of dog training: duration, distance, and distraction. The final distraction would be having food on the worktops while your dog remains in their bed.

Teach the ‘Leave It’ Command

Diabetic dog treats

All dogs should learn the ‘leave-it’ command.

©Natalia Bostan/Shutterstock.com

This is an essential command for dog safety and one that you should teach your dog whether they counter-surf or not. There are a couple of ways of approaching this. One way is to have a treat in both hands and make fists. Your dog will sniff one of your hands, say ‘leave it,’ and give them a treat from the other hand. Keep doing this until your dog immediately stops sniffing when you say leave it. Move on to teaching your dog to leave a treat that is out of its reach and, finally, to leave a treat that is directly in front of them. The treats that you use for this training exercise need to be especially yummy – equal to or better than what they can find on your counters!

Summary of Ways to Stop Your Dog From Counter-Surfing for Food

NumberMethod
1Limit access to the kitchen
2Make counters less tempting
3Give your dog a job to do
4Teach the ‘leave it’ command

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/NeonShot

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About the Author

Dr Sharon Parry is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on dogs, animal behavior, and research. Sharon holds a PhD from Leeds University, UK which she earned in 1998 and has been working as a science writer for the last 15 years. A resident of Wales, UK, Sharon loves taking care of her spaniel named Dexter and hiking around coastlines and mountains.

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