Posted on: August 3, 2020 Posted by: Kimberly Thibodeaux Comments: 0

One of the hardest canine behaviors for some dog owners to understand (or forgive) is counter-surfing–when your pup helps himself to some edible item that you or another family human left unattended. The habits isn’t just limited to counters; some pets help themselves to any kind of food left on tables, desks, coffee tables or any other off-limits surface area.  Some pet dogs specialize in locating any kind of food you have actually concealed in your cars and truck!


Smart dog owners recognize that canids are born “opportunistic eaters”–they are genetically programmed to eat food when they see or locate it. Of course, that does not mean we need to simply let them eat anything in the house that they can discover! Pets are genetically configured to do a great deal of things we don’t simply let them do.

However, it does indicate that we need to scrupulously handle our pet dog’s surroundings in hopes that they never find out the pleasure of counter-surfing to begin with; however, if they already have discovered counter-surfing, we can reprogram the learning (i.e., customize the behavior).

Management is rather simple. It just suggests never ever leaving neglected food anywhere your dog can get it. Alternatively, you can restrain or put your pet dog away (closed in one more room, behind a child entrance, connected, or crated) if you must leave food out.

If you do this beginning with puppyhood so your pup never gets a chance to make off with the delicatessen tray or butter on the counter, there’s a great chance he will not make the decision to leap onto counters when he gets older.

Still, it’s not suggested to take good behavior for granted, or regularly present your pet dog with unnecessarily hard-to-ignore lures.

Our two pet dogs have actually never ever counter-surfed; they are both relatively small (under 50 pounds) and also have great house manners, so we trust that our food is risk-free on the cooking area counter or dining room table (despite the fact that they are both quite capable of leaping that high). I wouldn’t dream, however, of leaving food on our coffee table and walking out of the room; there is no sense in tempting fate!

If your choice is to create barriers for your pup to keep him from having access to food on counters and tables, we suggest doors, infant gateways, crates, exercise pens, chains, tethers, and also (last but the very least, as it has the very best chance of failure due to human mistake) straight supervision.

Some canines appear incorrigible and decide to help themselves to any food they can find in your home–and some humans get hopping crazy concerning it. “I have actually punished him sometimes for this,” they say. “He knows he’s not allowed to do it. He just does it when I’m not around, and he always looks guilty afterward. So clearly he recognizes better!”

Thing is, he actually does not understand much better. What he does recognize is that bad things happen (you snap, or perhaps also a little crazy) if he takes food off the counter when you are around. Nonetheless, absolutely nothing bad takes place if he takes scrumptious stuff off the counter when you aren’t there, so it’s fine–and secure–to do it then.

Usually, by the time you find his newest transgression, as well as penalize him for it (we don’t advise this), the penalty is too far away from his activity; he will not associate the penalty with his taking the food. All he really knows is that often you are bad-tempered when you get in the kitchen area (or anywhere the food had actually been).

So what to make of those guilty looks? If your dog doesn’t know he did a bad thing, why does he look guilty?

In 2009, pet dog cognition scientist Alexandra Horowitz, Ph.D., author of Within a Pet Dog: What Dogs See, Odor, as well as Know (Scribner, 2009) and Being a Canine: Complying with the Canine Into a World of Smell (Scribner, 2016), tried to address that concern with a study discussing that guilty look.

Horowitz set up a circumstance where the home owner would place a treat where their dog might reach it, tell the dog to leave it alone, as well as leave the room. When the owner returned, Horowitz often reported to the owner that the dog had consumed the reward even if he hadn’t (the scientists got rid of the food from the plate). In these instances, the owners most often explained their canines as looking guilty, despite the fact that, unbeknownst to them, the pet had not taken the reward. Additionally, if the proprietors reprimanded the dogs, the pets often looked “guilty”– whether they had consumed the reward or otherwise. In fact, Horowitz additionally found that when reprimanded, one of the most overstated guilty looks were frequently offered by the canines who had actually not eaten the treat!

The habits and expression that owners commonly think is an indication of regret–a hunched, reduced posture, ears back, eyes averted, often accompanied by a submissive smile–is really appeasement behavior; it suggests that the pet is afraid. It implies he has actually read your body language, comprehends that you are dismayed, as well as is attempting to appease you so you do not take it out on him.

If your canine’s counter-surfing and also your rage regarding it is divided in time by greater than several seconds, he has no concept why you are angry, but he does not want your wrath descending on him. Even if you aren’t overtly angry, he can tell when you are upset concerning something, so he provides body movement planned to disperse your feelings.

Note: While the pet’s actions in the counter-surfing situations explained right here are not an indicator of guilt, that does not imply pets can not really feel regret. We don’t know that yet. It’s possible that they can. Yet this isn’t it.


My very own unverified and also untested theory, based upon unscientific proof alone, is that the absolutely committed counter-surfers often tend to be wise, certain dogs with resilient personalities. Some are truly masters of the art of taking food– virtually from under your very nose, without you ever observing. You need to appreciate ninja abilities like that! You might even remain in the kitchen area with your dog and also you think you’re doing a great job of managing, but you turn your back momentarily and oops! The vacation ham has been swiped from the counter.

It is certainly worth in coming up with some counter-surfing actions, particularly if you have among you those expert surfers, or if monitoring won’t work in your household; probably you look after an elderly moms and dad with mental deterioration, or have active kids at home. When scrupulous administration isn’t possible, of course, make use of training devices!

Below are some beneficial training devices you can use to deter your counter-surfing pooch:

* Mat training. Instruct your canine that her area in the kitchen is on her floor covering, easily positioned in the corner. Cue her to visit her floor covering as required, and after that expect her to begin going to her mat on her very own, without a cue. When this occurs, make sure to praise her gladly and kindly!

Plan to increase the duration of time that you have her remain on the mat until she will certainly stay there gladly for long periods with longer periods between treats. Continue to reinforce her on her floor covering in the kitchen area (or anywhere food is present) to maintain the behavior.

* Leave It. A trained, well-timed, joyful “Leave it!” sign can work wonders, specifically if it’s provided right when you see your pet dog looking at the turkey sandwich that a one of the kids left on the coffee table.

Also, don’t assume that “Leave it” implies “for life,” so if you do have to leave the kitchen area for a brief moment, your “Leave it” cue can help guarantee the safety and security of any type of neglected food–but do not depend on it for more than a few seconds!

Beginning by saying “Leave it!” and also placing a reward under your foot and wait for your dog to stop attempting to get it out from under your shoe. The moment she stops, “mark” the minute with a signal, such as the click of a clicker or the word “Yes!” and also provide her a reward. Continue making use of the marker (click or “Yes!”) as well as giving her a reward every few seconds, in various periods of time (not too long), as long as she does not go back to the footwear. If she does try to obtain the reward once more, simply wait until she quits, after that mark/treat once more.

It’s a fun habit to teach! You are helping your dog make the ideal selection and after that strengthening her when she does. It is among those rewarding-for-the-human positive-training minutes where you get to see the light bulb come on, when your canine checks out the reward and after that intentionally chooses not to take it.

* Leave. The “Leave it” command tells your pet dog not to consume whatever she is fancying; in contrast, the “Walk Away” moves her immediately away from the food that she’s considering on the counter or table. In most cases, this is extra reliable, because it informs your canine what to do (and strengthens her for doing it) rather than just telling her what not to do.

Having the ability to show your pet to move away from something when asked is an invaluable device, both for your canine’s safety and security and for your peace of mind. It has actually become one of my favored habits to educate and make use of.

We begin showing this action by throwing treats for our pet to chase, as well as consume. When he completely understands the ” game” of looking to see where you toss the treats so he can go after and also eat them, you then offer him with a novel however neutral (dull) thing that may draw his attention for a moment. When he moves toward the item to investigate it with a smell, you cue “Leave!” as well as run away, tossing treats behind him, so he whips a U-turn and also pursues the treats.

There are much more steps and also even more methods required for a reliable “Walk Away!” actions, however you get the idea.


In behavior scientific research terms, you “extinguish” your dog’s counter-surfing behavior by not leaving any food on the counter for him to locate–ever–thus removing all feasible reinforcement. Habits that aren’t strengthened in some way at some point vanish. However if your canine happens to rack up a sandwich or a savory pie while you are attempting to snuff out the food-seeking habits–even simply once– the actions will be so strongly strengthened that it will be challenging to extinguish again.

So, if you really intend to extinguish your pet dog’s counter-surfing actions, your management needs to be flawless. If your pet has access to a treat on the counter every now and then, she will certainly continue to search for random rewards that she can snag when no one is looking. And each time she does, she’ll become a lot more persuaded that the counter will at some point pay off. The actions will become much more durable, as well as she will certainly maintain surfing the surface of the counter even longer.

Think of this: Say you’re strolling to function and you see some beautiful marigolds in a street-side planter. To your shock as well as joy, you discover a $100 bill tucked under the leaves of the plant. Don’t you think you’ll check the planter once more the following day? And also the next?

If, four days later, you happen to discover an additional $100, you’re certainly going to check the planter every time you go by for a long time. Finding an additional bill in twenty or thirty days will only convince you to maintain looking, even if there are long voids between finding one $100 and also the following. As a matter of fact, you probably keep looking even if you “simply” discovered a $20 bill!


Some canines are more highly encouraged by the prospect of locating ignored food than others. You might never be able to turn your back on these pets and also expect to see treats where you left them– so don’t leave treats neglected! Monitoring is that straightforward.

You have actually spent considerable energy and time into handling and changing your pet dog’s habits. He doesn’t snag food off the kitchen area counter when you aren’t looking. Actually, he’s very good regarding kicking back on his floor covering in the corner when you remain in the kitchen area preparing food, and you’re very good concerning continuing to reinforce him for that. Congrats!

Can we state he’s “cured” currently? Is it fine to let your guard down and also leave food on the counter–even when you’re not there?

With some canines, possibly; however, for a lot of them, most likely not.

Some pet dogs have extremely strong food-seeking habits. For instance, as many animal-care professionals understand, some breeds (scientists have found) have a genetic propensity to have a magnetic pull to unattended food.

Your counter-surfing pup–or any other pet with strong food-accessing actions–is likely to require administration for the rest of his life.

Think back to that planter with the marigolds, as well as the occasional $100 bills. If you went months without finding any more money, you ‘d possibly stop inspecting daily—however, you could still take a peek under the blossoms every once in a while. And also if at some time you found more money–even just $5 –you ‘d likely return to checking that planter frequently once again, right?

When we change habits, the old behavioral feedback (neural pathway) doesn’t vanish; it just is superimposed by the brand-new behavioral response. If something happens to set off the old feedback, the actions can (and also frequently does) promptly stand out back up (this is called a spontaneous recuperation).


In certain training academies, they sometimes perform a “Leave It Check” with trainers and also their trained pets. The instructors put a bowl of food on the flooring and inform their pups to “Leave it!” Typically, as long as the instructor faces her pet and watches, most of the pet dogs are really reliable regarding abstaining from eating the food.

Amusingly, however, if the instructors cover their eyes, turn their backs to their pets, or hide behind a barrier, more than 90% of the pet dogs will certainly help themselves to the food within 10 minutes. Most consume the food within one minute or much less!

If your pet dog has a background of obtaining positive reinforcement for not counter-surfing, and you have actually put effort into modifying his behavior so that he’s much less most likely to avail himself of available food, YOU need to remember to maintain sensible administration procedures, too. Do not waste all that effort by tempting him into disobedience–just don’t. If you do–and your pup fails, it’s your fault, not his.

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