Put a stop to your dog counter surfing with this trainer’s easy three step solution

Dog stealing food from table while owner is distracted
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you've ever experienced the frustration of trying to prepare a meal or enjoy a snack, only to have your dog snatch a bite from the countertop, you're not alone. Counter surfing, as it's often called, can be a challenging habit to break. 

It's not only annoying but can also be dangerous if your dog manages to grab something toxic or hot from the counter. Wondering what human foods dogs can eat? We've got the answer to this with help from a vet.

However, you've most likely landed here because you don't want your pup stealing your food. Perhaps you have resorted to crating your dog while you cook or, you offer distractions like one of the longest lasting dog chews during meal times. But to put it bluntly, these are only temporary fixes. 

To truly address this behavior, it's essential to train your dog to stay away from the countertops and tables when food is around. Thankfully, certified dog trainer, Jenna Pellerito CCBC-KA, known for her effective and force-free training methods, recently shared a solution on The Future is Force Free Instagram page. 

Jenna's approach centers on creating a positive association between your dog and the presence of food on the counter. Here's her three-step process:

Step 1) Develop a Reinforcement History

Start by placing a bowl of treats on the counter. As soon as your dog notices the treats but refrains from jumping up, mark the behavior with a clicker or a verbal cue like "yes," and immediately reward your dog with a treat from your hand. This technique interrupts the dog's impulse to jump while reinforcing the desired behavior of staying on the ground.

Step 2) Associate Food on the Counter

Over time, you'll want to progress to having your dog associate food on the counter with a specific desired behavior. For example, teach your dog to go to a designated mat or spot in the kitchen when food is on the counter. The presence of food on the counter becomes the cue for your dog to perform this alternative behavior rather than attempting to steal the food. This approach helps change your dog's default behavior from counter-surfing to something more desirable.

Step 3) Extend to Different Contexts 

Once your dog has mastered staying on the ground or moving to a designated area when food is on the counter, you can apply this behavior to various situations. For instance, if you're eating at the table, you can use the same technique to teach your dog to settle on a mat nearby. This approach gives your dog alternative behaviors to display when food is present.

Pellerito notes, "Remember by nature dogs are opportunistic scavengers. Meaning, they will take most opportunities to seek out food. These steps teach them alternative behaviors to display to gain the food that isn’t actually taking it for themselves."

Jessica Downey
Staff Writer

With over a year of writing for PetsRadar, Jessica is a seasoned pet writer. She joined the team after writing for the sister site, Fit&Well for a year. Growing up with a lively rescue lurcher kindled her love for animal behavior and care. Jessica holds a journalism degree from Cardiff University and has authored articles for renowned publications, including LiveScience, Runner's World, The Evening Express, and Tom's Guide. Throughout her career in journalism she has forged connections with experts in the field, like behaviorists, trainers, and vets. Through her writing, Jessica aims to empower pet owners with accurate information to enhance their furry companions' lives.