Many dogs steal food. It is a habit that is not only bothersome to dog owners but also potentially dangerous to the dog. As a result, making an effort to stop counter surfing is crucial for keeping your dog safe and healthy.
One of the best ways to stop a dog from counter surfing is to teach them a strong Leave-It command. This way you can tell your dog to leave food on command when you notice them going towards food to eat it.
Here I will be explaining just how you can teach your dog the Leave-It command and use it to stop them from counter surfing. Let’s get started!
What is Counter-Surfing?
The term counter surfing refers to the action of dogs looking for food on counters and stealing it when available. This searching behavior is what the surfing part of the term means.
However, I include all types of food stealing under this umbrella term, as most dogs will steal food whenever and wherever they can get it. After all, chicken is still chicken to a dog no matter if it is on the floor, table, or counter.
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Why Does My Dog Counter-Surf?
Dogs counter surf for many different reasons. Most dogs will counter surf simply because they are bored and human food tastes good. Additionally, feeding your dog human foods from the table or counter reinforces this bad habit, so doing this definitely makes things worse.
In some rarer instances, counter surfing can be a sign of separation anxiety or a medical problem in dogs as well. Therefore, it is a good idea to take your dog to the vet if their hunger cannot seem to be satisfied or if they seem to be suffering from severe separation anxiety.
How to Stop a Dog From Counter-Surfing?
The best way to get your dog to stop counter surfing is to teach them the Leave-It command. When a dog has a strong Leave-It command, it allows their owners to tell them to resist human foods when asked. Here is how you can teach your dog to leave food on command.
1. Teach Your Dog the Leave-It Command
When first introducing your dog to the Leave-It command, it is best to start with some dog treats rather than human foods. This gives you more control when it comes to preventing your dog from eating the treat.
Here is how to introduce your dog to the Leave-It command in a few simple steps.
Hold a treat out in your hand. You may need to cover the treat with your fingers to keep your dog from eating it. When your dog turns their head away from your hand with the treat, mark the behavior and reward them.
Practice this several times. Once your dog is immediately turning their head away from your hand, move on to step 2.
It is crucial that you reward them with a different treat than the one you had them turn away from. This will prevent your dog from thinking that they can just turn around and get food after they have left it.
Hold your hand out and say “Leave-It”. Once your dog turns away, mark the behavior and reward them with a different treat. Practice this until you can tell your dog to leave the treat successfully without it being covered by your fingers.
Make the process more difficult by leaving the treats on the ground. Tell your dog to leave the treat, and then reward them with a different treat when they listen.
In the beginning, your dog may go for the treats on the ground. Cover the treat with your foot when this happens to prevent them from eating the treat. Continue practicing until your dog can successfully leave the treat on the ground without your foot covering it.
Continue practicing this skill at varying degrees of difficulty. All types of training are a skill that gets better when the dog is well practiced.
2. Practice Leave-It Around Food
Once you are confident that your dog has a strong Leave-It, you can start practicing around human food. This mimics real life situations where your dog will be using this skill.
The key here is to make the act of leaving the food more rewarding for your dog than the food itself. So, it is a good idea to give your dog treats that they love along with lots of praise when your dog leaves the foods that they like to steal.
3. Use the Command as Soon as You Notice Your Dog Going Toward Food
When using the Leave-It command to combat counter surfing, you are rewarding them for resisting the food. However, in order to do this correctly you will need to act quickly. This means giving your dog the leave-it command as soon as you see them walking towards food that has been left out.
Once your dog has left the food, redirect them with a toy or activity. You do not need to reward them with treats every time they leave food once the skill is well practiced.
It is also a good idea to keep food out of your dog’s reach when you are not around and when you cannot monitor them. This will prevent your dog from stealing food and enforcing this bad habit without you being able to stop it.