One of the things we have to learn when adopting a Greyhound is that nothing on the counter is off limits, in their mind. All food they have smelled before has been theirs. Not only that, but dogs are opportunistic scavengers from way back. Your dog is rewarded every time he jumps on the counter and finds food or something to chew, so it is very important to stop counter surfing ASAP, preferably before it starts. This behavior is not only irritating but it can be dangerous. Hot food can burn, glass can break and cause cuts, or your dog could ingest something that is harmful to them. Counter surfing should be curbed as soon as possible to avoid a vet visit. There are many strategies we can undertake to prevent it though.
While some may think their hound jumps on the counter just because he can, or because he is mad you left him home alone, the real reason is that it is self-rewarding. They have learned that kitchen counters are an easy source of yummy snacks. Dogs are optimists and opportunists, so even if your dog has only found food on the counter once or twice, he will keep on jumping up to look for it.
There’s no point in punishing your dog after the fact; if a consequence doesn’t happen right as your dog starts to misbehave, he isn’t going to make the connection. What usually happens if you punish your dog for counter surfing with yelling or using an aversive is that your dog learns not to try and steal food when you’re around but waits till you leave.
The simplest solution, of course, is to manage the situation so that your dog doesn’t have access to food on the counters. Here are some tips:
- Never keep food on your counters. If your dog doesn’t find any food when he jumps up, he’s not getting rewarded for counter surfing.
- Wipe the counter tops thoroughly when you are done cooking so that there’s no delicious residue for the dog to lick up. Licking something tasty on a counter can be just as rewarding as finding a piece of food to snack on.
- Crate your dog during meal preparation. The process of cooking tends to involve food spread out on the counters, making it easy for your dog to snag a morsel when you’re not looking. If you don’t have a crate, you can use a baby gate in the doorway to restrict access to the kitchen or you can also use a tie down. While you are in the kitchen, have your dog on a tie down either in the same room, or one where you can still see him (never leave a dog unattended on a tie-down). This way, your dog can be with you, but cannot practice bad behavior. Or you could tether them to you.
The main objective here is to arrange your environment so that the dog does not have the opportunity for reinforcement (finding food), which makes him more likely to do it in the future. Also, no food left out on the table, no dirty dishes lying around, no food left unattended in the living/family room.
To discourage counter surfing, there are a couple behaviors you can teach your dog. “Leave it” or “Off” are useful cues for many situations, including managing counter surfing. Lots of dog training videos out there to help you with this. Another useful command to teach is “Place” or Settle”, where you train the dog to go to a mat or blanket just outside the kitchen. You can also train behaviors that are inconsistent with counter surfing, such as “Sit” or “Down”. If you can’t train your dog to do these commands, a water pistol or spray bottle can be used to deter the behavior. Of course these approaches only work if you are right there.
For times when you can’t be right there, here are some deterrent ideas that people have come up with that work for some dogs:
The most popular idea is to set up a trap by stringing empty soda cans together. In a couple of the cans, put some pennies. Then leave a couple of feet of string and attach the end to some bait (bread?). Brush or spray the bait with something undesirable (like lemon juice, Tabasco sauce, or Bitter Apple). Push the cans to the back of the counter. When they grab the bait and pull it down, the very noisy cans will come falling down. If this works, you can reinforce it in the future with just one can prominently displayed where you do not want them to go.
Some other ideas are to place “sticky tape,” similar to clear packing tape, around your counter and when your dog jumps up, they are met with stickiness that may deter them.
A motion sensor alarm/noise maker might deter them. You could make your own “alarm” if you can be there – put a string around a can with a few pennies and something for bait. You watch from around the corner, and when they are about to grab the bait, pull the can down, come running into the room and loudly say “Ah Ah” or “No” and take the bait away before they can eat it. They will learn that bad things happen if they try to get something off the counter.
If you see your dog checking out a clean counter, wait and watch. When the dog gives up and walks away, reward that with a treat or by engaging him in a fun activity. When preparing food, make sure you reinforce nice behaviors such as sitting patiently, or lying down on the floor or a mat.
Make sure the treats with which you are rewarding him are especially tasty. By doing so, you are teaching him that asking him to leave it doesn’t mean he won’t get anything. (On the contrary, he might get something more delicious instead.) When trying to dissuade a counter surfer, you need to help him learn that leaving the human food alone is more rewarding than counter surfing. It takes persistence, but you can do it!