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Counter Surfing

In a nutshell: dogs counter surf because it works, or it worked, maybe just once, but it got them something they wanted. Then they tried it again. The next several times they tried it, it might not have worked because their human learned to push stuff to the back of the counter. But then the human got forgetful and left something near the edge, and the dog tried again and scored Something Wonderful. When a behavior works sometimes, but doesn’t work other times, this is called intermittent reinforcement. Intermittent reinforcement builds a very durable behavior.  Dogs keep doing it because occasionally it pays out. 


An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Nothing is more true with counter surfing. Whether you’re taking a pro-active approach to preventing counter surfing or trying to rehabilitate an expert thief, here are some tips that can help:


  • Keep your counters impeccably clean (nobody likes me when I say this) If your dog peeks up on the counter they must NOT get anything or else they have reinforced themselves

  • Use a tether to keep your dog away from the counters when you are in the kitchen together

  • Provide enrichment activities (puzzle toys etc) on the floor. If all the exciting stuff is happening on the floor, this is where their attention will stay

  • Place pre-loaded lick mats or snuffle mats on the floor away from the counters. Again, if all the interesting stuff is down low, or in a different section of the room, your dog’s attention need not drift upward or towards the counters.

  • Use baby gates or close doors at times when countertops are cluttered or humans aren’t able to be attentive

  • Only have dogs in the kitchen under human supervision


Behaviors you should train to help you are:

  • Place: dogs should be stationed at their Place while you prep food or eat meals. The Place should be reasonably far away from the counters do dogs are not tempted

  • Leave It

  • Come

Leave it and Come can be used to redirect your dog in case you catch them heading towards the counters with their noses in the air. Place gives your dog a job to do when in the kitchen and keeps them away from the counters.


A well known dog trainer was giving a talk about Digging once. He said: when gold was discovered in California, everyone went to California to dig for gold. Nobody went to New Jersey. The point was, dogs are going to go where they find the Good Stuff. The proposed solution for digging was to provide a dig box (loaded with Good Things To Find) in a specific area of the yard so a dog would confine their digging there. Think about this as it relates to counter surfing: if all the good stuff is Up On The Counters, that’s where the dogs will go. If there is A Lot Of Good Stuff Down On The Floor, we can get the dog’s attention to go there instead. Designate a corner of your kitchen as The Good Place. Leave pre-baited puzzle toys, lick mats, Kongs, or occasionally a new bone there. If they never score anything off the counter but always score something in The Good Place, where do you think they’re going to go?



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