Have you got a counter surfer? Counter surfing is definitely up there in my most annoying behaviors. I don't know how many times I've met a new client and as we sit discussing some of the most bothersome issues that their dog may or may not have; out of the corner of my eye I see a dog head peaking over the countertop in the kitchen.
Out of habit; my head spins around to take in the full view of the behavior going on. Yep, Fido is up there surfing the counter. Hmmmm, what looks good this morning? Any leftovers from breakfast? I'm sure the guardian can see the reaction in my face as I attempt to ask calmly "is this okay with you?" because they are quickly out of their seat and telling their dog to get down which their dog usually does until they walk away.
Counter surfing is a behavior that quickly becomes habit forming and again is one of the unwanted behaviors that is easily eliminated. Honestly, I don't care how adorable your dog is, they should not be eating off of the counter. Whether you have a clever, masterminded pocket pooch that has figured out how to manipulate themselves to the top of the counter or if you live with a lumbering Irish wolfhound who simply lowers his head to the counter top to eat; it should NEVER, EVER happen.
Of course it is going to be easier if you have a small dog, simple physics comes into play here because getting to the top of the counter for a tiny dog is more difficult and they must be creative in their thinking. But believe me some of the worst criminals in counter surfing are the tiny ones. If you have a dog that is going to be average in size, the size that can either stand on their hind legs and help themselves or just reach their head up and graze off of the counter then you need to start right away.
You must set boundaries and no dog should cross the line you draw.
- There should be no sniffing of the counter, this act itself leads to getting to the source of the smell. First comes the distant sniff, then the counter sniff, next the head turned sniff which is the pre-counter surfing sniff.
- No feeding from the counter, dogs are smart; they know where that food came from.
- You need to claim the counter as "human territory."
If you stop the sniffing advances you make it quite understandable that the counter is off limits. Once you make that perfectly clear then the feedback you give to your line crosser will have alot more impact. Just about all dogs will try it, although if you are really good with your training some never do, like my Tilley (brag, brag). But, you know it; Luke has tried, but only once. He was the recipient of some very memorable feedback so that was the end of that.
When you are in the throws of teaching your dog that there will be no counter surfing you must supervise. Each and every time your dog crosses the line and hits the jackpot your training will suffer. When your dog rewards themselves for counter surfing by eating some great food they found while surfing, they will continue this behavior. What they may learn is to wait until you are out of site, but they will continue.
Secret offenders need sneaky training tactics. To drive the message home you must give feedback, otherwise your dog never truly understands that counter surfing is not allowed. To stop the action even when you are not around you must give feedback when your dog thinks you are not around. By placing a yummy item of food on the counter and leaving the room you set the stage. From around the corner and out of site you wait patiently for one foot up. That is your cue to come booming from what seems like out of thin air and startle the pants off of your dog.
You must give instant feedback, it must have impact. Dogs do not like to be startled and will seriously consider stepping foot up on the counter again if you have delivered your feedback properly. Even if you have a casual surfer that doesn't mind that you are in the room the feedback should still have impact. You must clap your hands, say "OFF" or whatever comes out of your mouth in a loud but not yelling voice. Move towards your dog with purpose, afterall this is your counter and you should at least appear to the offender than you intend to enforce it.