Why Has My Dog Suddenly Started Stealing Food?

March 24, 2023 / Behavior / By: Lilianna Parker

Most dogs will steal food at one point in their life. After all, human foods taste good! However, chronic counter surfing can become a serious problem for both dog owners and the dog themselves.

There are several possible causes of counter surfing in dogs. Boredom and simply having the opportunity to steal food are some of the most common causes of this behavior. Luckily, there are also several ways that dog owners can prevent their dogs from stealing food.

Here I will be explaining the six proven reasons why dogs counter surf. I will also be providing you with five ways that you can prevent this issue from occurring altogether. Let’s get into it.

6 Reasons Why Dogs Suddenly Counter Surf

There are six reasons why dogs steal food

1. Your Dog Found an Amazing Opportunity

Most dogs will steal food simply because it smells delicious and it is right in front of their nose.

Think about it like this. Your favorite food is sitting on the counter just waiting to be eaten. So, you go to take a piece. After all, no one is around and nobody said that you cannot eat it.

Well, this is a lot like what dogs experience when they come across human foods unattended, especially extra delicious ones.

2. Your Dog is Hungry

Some dogs will also turn to steal food when they are hungry. If your dog has not eaten that day and is looking around for food, hunger is most likely the cause.

Sometimes an extreme appetite in dogs can also be a sign of a medical issue. As a result, it is a good idea to take your dog to the vet if they seem to be never satisfied after eating.

3. Your Dog is Bored

Boredom is another common reason why dogs steal food, and it is often the reason why dogs will steal food right in front of their owners.

4. You Have Encouraged Counter Surfing Accidentally

You fed your dog table scraps

Feeding your dog table scraps reinforces counter surfing. The problem is, most dog owners do not mean to reinforce this bad behavior when giving their dogs this treat.

Feeding your dog off your plate or from the counter confuses dogs, and it makes them think that this food is really for them. This confusion leads to dogs turning to the counter rather than their food bowl whenever they want a snack.

5. Your Dog is Suffering From Separation Anxiety

Severe separation anxiety can sometimes leave dogs searching for food and eating it in a panic. However, this cause of counter surfing will only be the case if your dog primarily steals food when they are left alone.

Dogs stealing food as a result of separation anxiety may also break into cabinets and pantries. They may eat through packaging to get to food whenever possible as well.

This level of separation anxiety is severe. As a result, it is best to consult with a vet about your dog’s separation anxiety if you believe that this is the cause of their food stealing behavior.

6. Your Dog Has Learned Stealing Food Gets Your Attention

Occasionally dogs will also steal food because they have learned that it gets them the attention they crave. Dogs are extremely intuitive animals, and they pick up on what gets their owner’s attention easily. This may be the cause of your dog’s food stealing if they stop as soon as you start giving them attention.

5 Ways to Prevent Counter Surfing

There are six ways to prevent counter surfing in dogs

1. Keep Food Out of Reach

Possibly the best thing that you can do to prevent counter surfing is to keep foods out of reach. Putting foods away in cabinets and placing foods in closed containers are great ways to keep foods out of a dog’s reach. You may also need to put child proof locks on cabinets for dogs that know how to open them.

2. Don't Hand Feed Table Scraps

Because of this direct link between feeding your dog table scraps and counter surfing, it is best to stop doing this immediately. This includes feeding your dog from tables, counters, and anywhere else that you eat or prepare food in your home. Additionally, it is not a good idea to allow dogs to eat off of human plates for the same reason.

3. Keep Your Dog Out of the Room When Lots of Food is Being Eaten

If you are going to be having a large gathering with food involved, it is best to keep your dog out of all areas with food. This includes the kitchen and any other areas where people are eating and where food is set out.

Keeping your dog away from these areas will prevent them from stealing food without your noticing. It will also prevent your dog from stealing food from your guests.

4. Prevent Boredom

Brown miniature Dachshund playing with durable ball dog toys

Preventing boredom can also be a good way to stop counter surfing, especially when boredom is the primary cause. Have plenty of toys and activities to distract your dog with when you are eating and preparing meals.

5. Feed Your Dog Before Preparing Food

Of course, some dogs will simply steal food because they are hungry. If this is the case for your dog, then feeding them before you eat and prepare food for yourself is a good idea. This is also good to do before any parties and gatherings that involve food.


Lilianna Parker

Lilianna Parker is a certified dog trainer through the Animal Behavior College, and has been involved in training dogs in the New York State community for several years. Lilianna has also written numerous works on dog training using positive reinforcement. She believes that every dog owner should have the tools that they need to see their dogs succeed. Her articles and blog posts about dog training are excellent ways for dog owners to get started with force-free training. She owns Simply Positive Dog Training and when she’s not writing or training, she enjoys going for hikes with her Shiba Inu called Cleo!

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