Dogs and Counter Surfing

Collie Counter Surfing Do you have a dog that, like Lucy in the picture here, gets on the counter and eats anything they can get their mouth on? Lucy will even reach her paw waaaaaay out if she has any hope of reaching something tasty that might be pushed back by the wall. Well this short article will contain suggestions of what you can do to prevent your dog from counter surfing. Of course if you have a small dog it won’t be a problem. And the bigger, less limber dogs, might not have the flexibility to get onto the counter. But medium size dogs are just great at counter surfing.

Prevent your dog from counter surfing to begin with

The old cliche applies here. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. As a matter of fact, and I will tell you this right off the bat, once your dog has learned to counter surf you don’t have much chance of stopping this behavior. Not unless you are very diligent and ever watchful of what you have on the counters, and what your dogs are doing.

Any animal will respond to positive reinforcement. If they do something and are positively rewarded, and especially with food which is a primary reinforcer, they are more likely to repeat the behavior. So once you leave that steak on the counter, or that package of donuts, and the dog gets into them, oh boy watch out. They will look again for the same reinforcement. And it only takes once.

Dogs and Right and Wrong

Many people now believe that dogs have no morals, no sense of ‘right’ vs. ‘wrong’. This doesn’t mean dogs are bad people. It just means they are dogs. Instead of right or wrong, a dog sees the world as either safe or dangerous.

So if you are around when the dog jumps on the counter to eat something yummy, and you are there and correct the dog with a smack or a mean voice (we never support hitting a dog on this website), then the dog will learn that getting on the counter when you are there is dangerous. But getting on the counter when you are not there is safe. Thus, you have created a dog that waits until you are gone to get on the counter (or sofa, this works in other areas too).

Stopping Dogs from Counter Surfing

So you messed up. And now your collie, or border collie, or boxer, or greyhound or whatever mix you may have, has been rewarding herself by jumping on the counter and stealing treats. What is a human to do?

The best bet is extinction. This requires that 100% diligence I was talking about earlier. It basically means never, ever, ever, leave anything for your dog to eat on your kitchen counters. If you do that, then the dogs will give up and stop trying the behavior. However, dogs can go a very long time checking and rechecking. And what if you make a mistake and leave something up there? You start over from day one.

Another way to stop this behavior is to hide. If you can get a squirt of water off, or a snap of a mouse trap, when you are not in the picture, then you might have a chance. You’d have to set the dog up by putting something small and not very valuable on the counter. If you can hide and give her a squirt without her knowing it was you (good luck), then that might work. This is, however, using correction with dogs. Which is something we try to avoid here at Tip Tail. We prefer positive methods of training.

Person or Dog Gives up First?

We have four dogs in our house. Three of them are limber enough to get on the counters. Angel is the only one who is not. And we did not use any prevention at the beginning, I am embarrassed to admit. So what do we do?

We let them counter surf. Our house is for our dogs. We don’t leave anything on our counters that they could be hurt by. My husband even lets Lucy jump up, when he is around, and lick something up that has spilled. What is a woman to do with her husband? Laugh and brush it off. It bothered me at first, but now it doesn’t.

We are careful not to leave pills, food, or anything else on the kitchen counters. That is what we do. We don’t want to hit or yell at our dogs all the time when they are on the counters. That would just make us dangerous and them fearful. So they win this round. But they still know who is boss.

Lucy, actually, has the cutest trick. When I’m cutting up dog treats such as hot dogs or string cheese on the counters, she used to jump up. Well, I wanted to clicker train her to keep her feet on the ground. So whenever her feet would land, I clicked. What did she learn? Well, you can’t have your feet get onto the ground without them first coming up off the ground. So now she has a very cute, sweet, hop that she does at the counter when I cut up treats. And of course I can’t resist giving her some. She’s my sweet baby girl collie. šŸ™‚

[tags]dog training, clicker training, counter surfing, collie, collies[/tags]