Managing Your Dog’s Counter Surfing Habit

dog sniffing treats on counter
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You’ve just spent hours on a home-cooked meal, you turn your back for a moment, and suddenly your furry friend is on the counter, gleefully chowing down. If this scenario sounds all too familiar, you’ve got a counter surfer on your hands.

What is Counter Surfing?

Counter surfing is a behavior observed in dogs when they jump up onto kitchen counters, tables, or other surfaces to steal food. It can be both a nuisance and a hazard, as your dog might unintentionally knock over kitchenware, or worse, consume potentially dangerous food items.

Although it’s more common in larger breeds due to their height, don’t be fooled, smaller breeds are just as capable. They may not be able to reach the countertop, but they can certainly jump onto chairs and tables, subsequently reaching the food.

This behavior is primarily driven by their instinct to scavenge for food. Dogs are opportunistic eaters and the tempting smells wafting from your kitchen counter can be irresistible. It’s important to remember that counter surfing doesn’t mean your dog is badly behaved, it’s just acting on its natural instincts.

Why Do Dogs Take Food From The Counter?

As mentioned, dogs are opportunistic eaters. Their ancestors, wolves, are scavengers, so it’s in their genes to be on the lookout for a quick snack. If they see an opportunity to snatch a tasty morsel, they will take it.

Another reason is boredom. Dogs, especially active breeds, need mental and physical stimulation. If they’re left alone with nothing to do, they might start exploring areas they usually don’t, like your kitchen counter.

Lastly, it could be a sign of hunger. If your dog is not getting enough to eat or is not getting the right nutrients, it might resort to counter surfing to fulfill its dietary needs. Always ensure your dog’s diet is sufficient and balanced.

How Can I Stop My Dog From Counter Surfing?

Like other canine behaviors, counter surfing can be corrected with a little time, patience, and the right approach. Remember, every dog is different, so what works for one may not work for another. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a little trial and error to find the right solution for your dog. The key is consistency, patience, and a lot of love.

Step 1: Understanding the Behavior

First and foremost, it’s important to understand why your dog is counter surfing. Dogs are naturally curious and food-driven. If they smell something delicious on the counter, their instinct is to investigate. It’s not a matter of disobedience, but rather an instinctive behavior that needs to be redirected.

It’s also worth noting that counter surfing can be a sign of boredom or lack of mental stimulation. If your dog doesn’t have enough to occupy their time, they may turn to behaviors like counter surfing to keep themselves entertained. So, part of the solution might involve providing more mental and physical stimulation for your dog.

By understanding the root cause of the behavior, you’re better equipped to address it in a way that’s effective and beneficial for your dog.

Step 2: Remove Temptation

This might seem obvious, but it’s an effective first step. If there’s nothing enticing on the counter, your dog will have no reason to jump up. This isn’t a long-term solution, but it can help curb the behavior while you work on training.

Keep food items and other enticing objects (like toys or chew bones) out of reach. This also includes making sure there are no chairs or stools nearby that your dog could use as a step.

While this step alone won’t solve the problem, it can certainly help lessen the frequency of counter surfing incidents.

Step 3: Provide Alternatives

Remember how we talked about counter surfing being a sign of boredom? Here’s where providing alternatives comes in. If your dog has plenty of engaging toys, puzzles, and chews, they’ll be less likely to seek entertainment on the counter.

Try rotating your dog’s toys regularly to keep them interesting and engaging. Puzzle toys that dispense treats can be particularly effective at keeping your dog’s attention.

Also, consider increasing your dog’s exercise routine. A tired dog is a well-behaved dog. Regular walks, playtime, and even training sessions can help keep your dog mentally and physically stimulated.

Step 4: Implement Training Techniques

Training is an essential part of addressing counter surfing. Start by teaching your dog a “leave it” or “off” command. When your dog goes to jump on the counter, firmly but calmly say the command. When they listen, reward them with a treat or praise.

Keep in mind that this will take time and consistency. Make sure all family members are on board and using the same commands and rewards to avoid confusing your dog.

Also, never punish your dog for not following the command immediately. This can create fear and confusion, and it won’t help correct the behavior. Instead, be patient and persistent, and always reward good behavior.

Step 5: Use Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool in dog training. When your dog does something you want them to do (like staying off the counter), reward them. This can be a treat, praise, or a favorite toy. The idea is to make the good behavior more rewarding than the bad one.

It’s important to reward your dog immediately after the desired behavior. This helps your dog make the connection between the behavior and the reward.

Again, consistency is key here. Make sure you’re reinforcing the behavior every time to help your dog understand what is expected of them.

Step 6: Monitor Your Dog

While training, it’s important to keep an eye on your dog. If you see them about to jump on the counter, redirect them with a command or distract them with a toy. This helps reinforce the idea that the counter is off-limits.

If you can’t be around to monitor your dog, consider using a baby gate or playpen to keep your dog out of the kitchen when you’re not around.

Remember, it’s easier to prevent a behavior than to correct it after it has happened.

Step 7: Consider Professional Help

If you’re finding it difficult to correct your dog’s counter surfing behavior on your own, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. A dog trainer or behaviorist can provide valuable insight and techniques to help curb the behavior.

They can also help address any underlying issues that may be contributing to the behavior, such as separation anxiety or other behavioral problems.

You may also consider consulting your vet to ensure your dog’s diet meets its nutritional needs. Remember, a well-fed dog is far less likely to go hunting for extra food.


Counter surfing can be a frustrating and dangerous habit for dogs. However, by understanding the reasons behind their behavior, managing their environment, and investing time in training, you can effectively curb this behavior. Remember, patience is key. Training takes time, and every dog learns at its own pace. With consistency and love, you can help your furry friend leave counter surfing behind.

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