Training Tricks to Stop Your Dog From Counter Surfing

You don't want your dog stealing human food from the counter top, but these simple steps can resolve the behavior.

Published July 13, 2023
Dog jumping up to lick dough from the counter.

It's frustrating when you come into your kitchen, only to find the food you were prepping all over the floor after your dog decided to look for a snack on the counter. Counter surfing, when dogs jump up to look for food, is a common problem for many pet parents. If your dog is tall enough, they can simply grab what they want.

It's not a good situation, and it can even be dangerous for pets, as they can accidentally eat something they're not supposed to. Like most unwanted behaviors, counter surfing can be stopped with the right training strategies and a lot of patience.

Why Dogs Jump Up On the Counter

Dogs are scavengers by nature. Understanding why your dog is counter surfing is the first step towards taking care of the problem. Dogs are primarily motivated by their noses. If something smells good to them, they want to check it out, and kitchen counters often have tempting aromas. In most cases, dogs counter surf because it has been rewarding for them in the past. Therefore, the first step in stopping this behavior is to remove the reward.

Keep Your Counters Clean

An effective starting point involves making sure your counters are clean and free of food, especially when you're not in the kitchen cooking a meal. By removing the temptation, you discourage your dog's desire to jump up. Store food in closed cabinets or the fridge, use containers with lids, and immediately clean up any spills or leftovers. Of course, this is easier said than done, but it's an important beginning step.

Quick Tip

Offering your dog a tasty treat, like a food puzzle or treat-stuffed Kong toy, could help distract them from the aromas from the kitchen while you're cooking.

Basenji searching counter for a treat.

Training an "Off" Command

Teaching your dog the "Off" command can be extremely beneficial. Start by catching them in the act of jumping onto the counter. Say the command "Off," and as soon as your dog gets off the counter, reward them with praise, a toy, or a treat. Over time, your dog will associate the "Off" command with the action of getting off the counter and the reward that follows.

Positive Reinforcement Training

Use positive reinforcement training with your dog. Encourage your dog to stay on the floor by rewarding them when they do. Spend time in the kitchen with your dog and reward them for keeping all four paws on the floor. Consistently praise them and give them treats for staying down, especially when they show interest in the counter but choose not to jump. This training will let your dog associate staying down with something good.

Provide Plenty of Physical and Mental Stimulation

Sometimes dogs counter surf because they're bored. Make sure your dog has plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation every day to keep their mind occupied and their body tired. This could include walks around the block, spending time playing fetch, solving puzzle toys, or engaging training sessions.

Training a "Place" Command

Another helpful technique involves training your dog to go to a specific place, like a dog mat or a dog bed, when you're in the kitchen. This gives them something else to do instead of wandering around the kitchen counter surfing and also keeps them in a safe location while you're cooking.

Quick Tip

If your dog is persistent, baby gates could be helpful in preventing them from entering the kitchen in the first place.

Punishment Probably Won't Work

Don't try to rub your dog's nose in a mess if they pull food off the counter. They won't understand what you mean, and it will only confuse them. Instead, focus on teaching what you want them to do. It's OK to say "No," and tell them to get down, but don't yell at them or punish them. Stay vigilant and remain patient. That's your best bet to resolve the behavior problem.

Consistency is Key

Remember to be consistent. If you put something in place, it's important not to stray from it. If you stray, your dog could easily get confused and not fully understand the rules. All family members should follow the same rules and use the same commands. With patience and consistency, you can prevent your dog from counter-surfing while keeping them happy, healthy, and entertained.

Training Tricks to Stop Your Dog From Counter Surfing