How to Stop a Dog Counter Surfing: Effective Strategies for a Well-Behaved Pup

44 views 9:41 am 0 Comments March 5, 2024

Counter surfing sucks, huh? You turn your back and within a second your steak dinner is no longer a steak dinner and your fury reaches new levels.

I get it, I have two hounds in the home, they were counter surfers too, we lost a tune stead, the corner of an uncooked pizza, bread and butter to this awful habit. And I love to cook too! So it’s really quite frustrating. I get it! I dealt with it in my own home – coonhounds are rotten for it!

So when you discovering your canine companion is tall enough and interested enough to begin exploring kitchen counter or dining table we dog guardians get frustrated. Tackling your dog’s counter surfing isn’t merely about stopping an annoying habit; it’s honestly essential for pet’s safety and the harmony of your home.

Countertops become enticing grounds for your dog’s curious paws, leading them to counter surf in search of a potential food item. Addressing this behavior requires a strategic approach. Best way to start is with the first thing in mind: implementing consistent training and management so that every opportunity your dog is exposed to those counters is a training opportunity and is controlled. Redirecting your dog’s attention from countertops can be achieved through recall, management, and desensitization.

Understanding your dog’s paws and their inclination to jump onto end tables or counter tops is crucial. Get your High-value treats at the ready, because it’s time to start training!

TBT Biothane Long Line

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Ruffwear Front Range Harness

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Dried Chicken Hearts Treats

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Step 1 – Understand the Problem

Dogs, known for their curiosity, often can’t resist exploring our counters when they contain gorgeous cuts of meat or other forbidden fruit (or charcuterie… whatever!). This behavior, called counter surfing, occurs when dogs use their front paws to reach items on tables or kitchen countertops. Dogs are opportunistic eaters, they’re not scavengers, they’re naturally driven by the search for food, guided by their inherent curiosity. So when you give your dog the opportunity to take your rotisserie chicken? There’s only so many times a smart dog is going to deny that instinct.

Consequently, what we really need to be doing is guiding our dogs that human food is around, but that it’s not an appropriate thing to hop up on the counter and help yourself.

How to Stop a Dog Counter Surfing
Curiosity unleashed: this inquisitive pup’s nose leads the way to endless adventures.

Step 2 – Management & Prevention Methods

As always in dog training, the first step is management. The simplest way to curb your dog’s counter surfing is by controlling their access to the food-areas of the home. Making use of baby gates, playpens, crates and leashes is the first step, preventing entry into the kitchen or dining room.

This then means that you can focus on training sessions being positive, productive, and most importantly? Prevent your pup from practicing the routine of stealing food – and trust me it’s a bad habit!

How to Stop a Dog Counter Surfing (1)
“Pawsitively perfect training session: a canine companion eagerly mastering new tricks with a tail-wagging dedication.”

Step 3 – Clear Your Counters

Whilst your dog is learning, not a single thing should be on your counters. Not one thing. This means not your lunch, not a thing of spices, not even your bread bin. Please make sure your counter surfer has no access to anything on that counter, no matter how seemingly low the value might be in your eyes.

How to Stop a Dog Counter Surfing (2)
“Serenity in simplicity: an empty kitchen counter awaits the culinary canvas, promising a clutter-free space for creativity.”

Step 4 – Begin Training

Once you know all your dogs needs are met for the day (physical exercise, enrichment, etc) then I’d encourage you to begin training for counter surfing (if they’re too tired, dial down the next walk). If your dog has a reliable recall, use this, if that’s not a skill your dog has yet, use a long line coupled with a harness. Sit away from the counter, with a jar of high value treats, or a treat pouch full of tasty stuff, and you’re going to let your dog approach

Let your dog explore the kitchen. As your dog approaches one of your counters, limit your long line, use your recall and call pup back from the counter. Then, we need to praise (or click if that’s how you train) and reward them for coming to you and ignoring the counter.

And practice. Repeat this as much as you possibly can.

How to Stop a Dog Counter Surfing (3)
“Furry scholar in action: a dedicated dog engaged in a focused training session, showcasing the art of obedience and learning.”

Step 5 – Increase freedom

Slowly, we’re going to add in more freedom, removing some management, allowing a long line to be on the floor, or removing the long line.

How to Stop a Dog Counter Surfing (4)
“Unleashing joy in every stride, these free-spirited dogs revel in the boundless beauty of freedom.”

Alternative methods – Place

Also known as mat training. Giving your dog a place in the kitchen can really help puppy to know where they should be – it can also really help you to have puppy get out of the way if you drop something that may be poisonous instead of scarfing it down, or even just get out of the way when you’re moving a 15lbs turkey out of the oven.

Place is a skill, and it’s one I strongly suggest all dog guardians teach! It’s also fantastic for teaching manners around the kitchen table.


Alternative methods – Incompatible behavior

Some people like the idea of teaching a sit beside the counter, because your pup can’t jump up and sit at the same time. However, to me, allowing them to stay close to the temptation? Is a recipe for failure… This is way more suited for jumping up on guests.

Management Techniques

The old phrase is that an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure, so management is one of those things that allows training to be successful.

1 – Keep them out of the room

Or, of course, confined within the room! Whilst you’re training, limiting your dogs access to your kitchen is pivotal to success! You can use doors, baby gates or play pens to facilitate this.

2 – Leashes

a leash is one of the most under used management tools in dog training. You don’t need to yank on it, or use corrections – you just need to contain and limit your dog’s ability to jump on the countertops – why not use a leash?

3 – Dog Proof Boxes

Remember your kitchen has 3 (typically) dog proof boxes;

  1. the microwave
  2. the oven
  3. the fridge.

Use them to put food away and remove access to highly tempting food.

Long Term Behavior Modification

Understanding your dog’s behavior is paramount for positive changes. The goal is to foster positive associations with good behavior, creating a harmonious living environment. Utilizing intermittent reinforcement, where rewards vary for alternative actions, proves effective in breaking the cycle of counter surfing. Establishing an imaginary line on counters sets clear boundaries, encouraging different, more desirable behavior.

How to Stop a Dog Counter Surfing (5)
“Radiant rays of positivity: a well-behaved dog exemplifying the charm and warmth of positive canine behavior.”

Regular physical and mental exercises play a significant role in positively altering your dog’s behavior. These exercises divert their attention from the allure of the coffee or dining room table. Consistently implementing these strategies ensures that undesirable behaviors, like jumping on counters in search of food, gradually diminish. Over time, your furry friend will learn to focus on more appropriate activities, making the kitchen a safer and more enjoyable space for everyone involved.

By incorporating these techniques, including first-class training methods, you create an environment where your dog associates positive experiences with desired behaviors. This consistent approach fosters a positive relationship and ensures a happy coexistence in your household.

Common Mistakes: Corrective Measures

This is where dog owners most commonly go wrong. We want to shout, use static shock collars, use loud sounds (like shaking a can of pennies), use a scat mat or similar because we’re mega frustrated! But that’s not a great idea with a new puppy, or any dog to be honest. What’s always preferable is to train a different behavior and shape the behavior we want to see.

Dealing with Specific Challenges

Some dogs may display unwanted behavior like counter surfing or bin diving as a link to separation anxiety or resource guarding, making it crucial to address these issues as soon as possible. Recognizing your dog’s access to certain areas is vital in managing challenges like counter surfing or jumping on kitchen surfaces. By understanding their reach and tendencies, you can implement the easiest way to redirect their focus from undesirable actions.

Providing alternatives becomes the first-class strategy in managing unwanted behaviors. Offering high-value items such as bully sticks or low-value food items serves as a great way to redirect their attention. Incorporating mental exercises into their routine helps engage their minds positively, reinforcing good behavior. This not only prevents scenarios like counter surfing but also encourages your dog to focus on more constructive activities.

Puppy Training

Addressing counter surfing early is crucial, especially with young puppies. The kitchen area, with its tempting spaces for exploration, becomes the first place to instill proper behavior. Start training on the first day, introducing simple commands and creating a positive association between your puppy and a designated mat. Making the learning process enjoyable is easy with high-value treats, enticing your furry friend to engage in first-class training.

Understanding that puppies are naturally curious, providing mental exercises becomes the simplest solution. Incorporate short training sessions into your daily routine, engaging their minds positively. Ensure they associate the dinner table and countertops with a no-go zone, emphasizing the importance of proper mat behavior. When your puppy jumps, redirect their attention to more suitable activities, reinforcing positive behaviors and discouraging dog counter surf habits.

How to Stop a Dog Counter Surfing (6)
“Nurturing good habits from the start: a lively puppy engages in behavior training, laying the foundation for a well-behaved and happy companion.”

Myth: Feeding Human Food Will Encourage It

Untrue! Your dog knows the piece of food you have is tasty – they can smell that. The difference between feeding them a little treat and forming an undesirable behavior is essentially allowing them to practice the behavior – and the easy way to stop that? Is management.


Addressing your dog’s counter surfing habits involves a combination of preventive measures, behavior modification, and consistent training. The edge of your counter should become a place of no interest through positive associations and correction of unwanted behavior.

Remember, the most effective way to curb counter surfing is through a holistic approach, incorporating physical and mental exercises. Seeking guidance from a professional dog trainer ensures a first-class strategy tailored to your dog’s needs. With the right techniques and dedication, you can transform your kitchen countertop from a potential snack haven to a safe and uninteresting zone for your furry friend.

It’s tough, but it’s doable! If you need more help than this article, Ali is a professional trainer and offers online training!

Author, Ali Smith

Ali Smith is a professional, qualified, and multi-award winning trainer is the founder of rebarkable. She has always believed animals deserve kindness and champions force free methods. Believing that dog guardians will all choose the kindest options if proper information is provided, she aims to help all dog guardians who need it and make dog training as accessible as possible

Ali lives win Maryland, US with her husband and her three dogs.

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