How to get your dog to stop jumping on the counters! How to stop counter surfing

You have some food on the counter, you’ve turned your back and suddenly it’s gone and your dog is licking his lips. Does this sound familiar? If you’re nodding your head then you have a counter surfer. Below we are going to go over how to stop your dog from stealing off the counters.

As with all my training, everything is positive reinforcement based and we do use treats. Need some treat ideas? Look here.

What is counter surfing?

Counter surfing is when your dog jumps up and steals things off the counter or potentially your table. Most of the time your dog is stealing food off the table.

how to stop your dog from jumping on the counters

Why does my dog steal food off the counter?

Why does your dog counter surf? Most likely because he’s found food doing it and hence has been rewarded. It’s like if you found $10,000 on your doorstep one day, I bet you would keep checking that doorstep… and even more so if you found it a few times (wouldn’t that be nice!). So let’s ensure food isn’t left so he doesn’t self reward himself.

How to stop your dog from counter surfing

If your dog is a counter surfer there usually isn’t a one fix all method but multiple things you can do (and should do) to help your dog stop his counter surfing habits.

  1. Stop leaving items on the counter where your dog can reach them. This doesn’t matter if you are only stepping out of the room for a minute, you need to go back to basics of puppy proofing and that means no items on the counter that have a 1% change of being stolen. Every-time you dog gets something off the counter he is self rewarding for going up there and making it much harder to get him not to. Make sure every family member is on the same page about this. 
  2. Keep your counters clean. While you may have removed your food, if something has spilled or there are crumbs your dog can most likely smell that and be enticed to jump up and check. So after using the kitchen be sure to properly clean and white down all counter tops. Most dogs don’t like the feeling of tin foil and you can consider putting some tinfoil along the edge of your counters, again this is an aide not a fix and should be used in conjunction with all this training.
  3. Teach your dog a ‘leave it’ behavior. When you teach a dog to leave food on the counter you teach him to never take it. Check out this training tutorial on how to teach a leave it (need more help, we have a full blog post on it here). Don’t start with using the counter in your training, ensure your dog understands a leave it first THEN use it on the counter top items.  By helping them understand what we want of them they are more likely to do as we wish. For leave it you need to use this before your dog gets to the food, not while he has it – then it’s too late (great time to use your drop it behavior) but he’s already rewarded himself and it’s too late to correct it. You need to catch your dog before he takes the desired item.
  1. Manage your dog. This means if you aren’t sure if you cleaned well then don’t let your dog in the kitchen till you are able to, tether your dog to you, use a baby gate to keep him or her out, maybe time for a nap in a crate, there are lots of options but set your dog up for success and not to fail. 
  2. Teach an off behavior. By teaching an off behavior, we can teach him not to jump on specific things like counters and people. One way to teach this is when you catch up with his his paws up take a treat and lure him down and say “off” and reward with the treat when his feet touch the floor. You need to be ready with your treats nearby though to catch this. Perhaps wear a treat bag on yourself while cooking so you can be ready. I tend not to say ‘down’ as I use down for teaching my dog to lay down. If you have taught your dog a paws up behavior, this would be an easy way to transition to teaching this. Then, after he off begin to praise your dog when he’s nearby and on all fours, meaning all 4 paws are on the ground. We want to reward him before he decides he needs to jump up and look for food.
  3. Teach your dog a place behavior. I use this behavior daily in my home, from sitting to not run out the front door, to waiting in the kitchen while I cook. It gives my dogs a place to wait while I am doing something, keeping them nearby but safely out of the way and most importantly in this case away from the counter tops. I use an elevated platform by Blue-9 but you can also use a dog mat, here is how I teach this. So whenever I’m in the kitchen cooking my dogs are on their place and learning not to beg and wait under that counter top. If your dog won’t stay away consider a baby gate in the kitchen while cooking or some crate time.
  1. Keep your dog busy. A mentally enriched dog is a happy dog. My dog gets treats through mental enrichment toys (and training). I never put these down in the kitchen. They run to their crate or a dog bed to get these toys. This teaches them good things come in the other room and helps provide that mental enrichment they really need! Need some mental enrichment puzzle ideas? Here you go! 
  2. Reward your dog for not jumping up. This may seem simple but it’s one of the top mistakes I see. We wait for our dogs to mess up and then get frustrated, instead reward your dog for doing nothing. Is your dog just sitting there patiently, tell him how good he is! Is he sitting in the other room while you are in the kitchen? Go give him a treat. Did he walk through the kitchen and not look up to that counter? Call him to you and tell what a great pup he is. Reward your dog for doing nothing, it’s huge! We want nothing over jumping on those counter tops.
  3. Don’t create negative associations. There are all sorts of old-fashioned techniques. From shaking cans to to electric mats, these can fall and cause all sorts of negative experiences and stress on our animals. They can lead to many unwanted side effects that aren’t currently there. Instead use the many methods above to safely and positively teach your dog not to counter surf.
Stop your dog from jumping on the counters

While this is a lot of steps, if you take the time to implement the steps and stick to it you will soon break your dogs counter surfing habits too.

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