The first step in stopping your dog’s counter surfing habit is to remove any opportunity or temptation. As responsible pet owners, we want to give our pets the best chance possible to behave well. Make sure all your food items are put away or stored in dog-proof containers such as Tupperware or a bread bin. Make sure you have a lid on your garbage can and it is placed somewhere that your dog cannot reach it such as a closed cupboard. If your dog has a habit of opening cabinet doors, install child-proof latches. Use baby gates and close doors to keep your dog out of certain areas when you are not around to supervise.
In some cases, dogs resort to counter surfing and garbage raiding because they are constantly hungry. If this seems to be the case, have your dog examined by a veterinarian to rule out any health problems. Discuss an appropriate diet for your dog and try feeding your dog smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day.
It is also common for dogs to become bored easily. In these cases, dogs sometimes resort to undesirable and/or destructive behavior. Make sure your dog is getting a sufficient amount of mental and physical exercise every day. A well-exercised dog who has plenty of chew toys is not as likely to counter surf or raid the garbage. For more information and ways to keep your furry friend out of trouble when you’re gone, please see our articles on Canine Enrichment and Exercise.
This is definitely a situation in which an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you need to resort to corrections, it is important to react immediately so that the dog correctly associates the punishment with the undesirable behavior. Punishing your dog after the fact will not do any good. As soon as you see your dog jump onto the counter, nose around the cupboard, or nudge at the trashcan, clap your hands and say “Off!” in a firm tone of voice. Afterward, lead your dog out of the area and keep him out by either closing the door or putting up a baby gate.
If your dog resorts to undesirable behavior only when you are not around, try using environmental punishers. Environmental punishers are a bit like traps in that they work by punishing your dog directly, even when you are not around. Try placing cookie sheets on the edge of your counter so that when your dog jumps up the cookie sheets are moved or knocked on the floor. The loud sound will not harm your dog, but instead startle him, making it very unlikely for the behavior to happen again. Or, use a spray that is triggered by motion, such as Ssscat, to deter your dog.
Remember, the goal of an environmental punisher is to make your dog hesitant towards returning to a particular place by either startling him or making him uncomfortable. It is important to use caution when using environmental punishers, especially since you are not around to supervise. Make sure that the methods you choose to use are safe, reliable, and do not harm your pet in any way. Physically hurting your dog is neither necessary nor effective.
Environmental punishers are not suited for every dog. Do not use environmental punishers if your dog appears nervous or skittish.
The benefit of environmental punishers is that they react immediately to the undesirable behavior when you are not around. If your dog is only punished when you are present, he will learn to wait until it's “safe” (when you are not there) to partake in naughty behavior. Approved environmental punishers safely and effectively teach your dog that it is never “safe” to jump on the counter or raid the garbage. Plus, since they are the ones doing the punishing, you won’t always have to be the “bad guy”!
If you would like information from an Anti-Cruelty Society Behavior Specialist regarding this behavior topic, please call 312-645-8253 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.