What is counter surfing? Counter surfing is a term that describes the behavior
of a dog that will get onto the kitchen counter and take things. How
many times has the story been told about a person working diligently on preparing a dinner only to have the phone ring
taking them out of the room, and shortly later to return with their food missing
and Fido looking content.
Dogs are mostly opportunists when food is involved and unless taking
the food is instantly corrected they have no idea they are doing anything wrong.
While they grabbed it and while they ate it, they were happy. Correcting them
after the fact does not in any way connect to the act of taking the food. This
is why it continues to occur. They may learn “do not touch the
food when Mom is guarding it” but that does not mean they will relate
that to not touching it when you are out of the room.
Picture this… two dogs in a room. One dog is chewing a bone and the other dog would like to.
Most likely he will not just go take the bone then, as he knows the other dog
will correct him, but if the dog walks away from the bone he will take the
opportunity to grab it. This is similar to counter surfing.
So what do we do about it???
There are several parts and options to fix this
problem. Remember this first…dogs react differently to corrections
and training methods. You should be working with a professional trainer if
you have a dog with behavioral issues. If you have a dominant or fear aggressive dog, then certain methods
will not be appropriate. The dog might turn on you when you try to correct
them if you do not already have a strong relationship where the dog trusts
and respects you.
You need to teach your dog that certain surfaces are off limits. Obviously
what surfaces you determine are off limits will depend on you and your lifestyle.
I teach my dogs that counter tops, coffee tables, end tables, computer desks,
garbage cans, etc are all off limits. My dogs are personally allowed on my
furniture but these methods work just as well on couches, beds, chairs, etc..
I do this by a couple of different ways depending on the dog and his intensity.
I often use a deterrent spray to teach what surfaces are for them not to
touch. You can use a spray bottle of water if your dog is sensitive to it.
Use the mildest method that your pet will respond to. I have also had people
successfully use mouth wash, bitter apple, and pet specific citrus or citronella
sprays (these are specifically designed for pets and not just BUG SPRAY!!!!) The key
with anything other than the water is DO NOT get it in their EYES!
Now we want to set this training excercise up so that we are not across the room or unable to reach
them. Entrapment is legal with dogs! I usually set something on the counter
that I think will make the dogs interested. I stay close. Do not wait for the dog to jump on the counter. I
believe they should not even sniff the counter. Also understand the spray (or
a verbal command might work if you have a soft dog) has to come as the
dog is sniffing/reaching/jumping on the counter top. Some people use "no" or
"move" as they spray. Ideally you want the dog to step away from the item. If you desire
to use a command as you spray to get that response, then feel free to do so.
Chasing them down afterwards to correct them is INCORRECT and does not help
and can make an animal defensive.You also need to make the correction BEFORE they
get something off the counter. If they have taken something and you correct
them while they are eating it, you now are into a potential food aggression
issue and that is a completely different training article!!! From this point forward
you do not want sniffing or getting on the counter top to mean anything other
than unsuccessful and unpleasant. I set this up with various situations so they
realize they are not supposed to touch those things...plain and simple.
Once I have done this step, if I am still getting a dog that tries to counter
surf (especially if they are trying to do it as soon as I am out of sight),
I often go to using electronic options. There are a several items on the
market. Some of the electric fence systems
have indoor zones that are little circular
electronic devices that work with their fence collars. I often recommend
people buy the combo outdoor fence and indoor zone system as it gives them the ability
to do all of it with one collar. Most of these zones are adjustable in how
far from them the dog is corrected. Another option is the scat mat. It is a sheet of plastic
that is battery operated and if the dogs touch it they get a little static
type correction at the spot of contact. The have different levels on the control
for softer and more difficult to correct dogs. Which choice is best depends
on what is your problem area and your dog.
I would like to add a few words about the electric options. When I introduce
these, I do not have other animals or people in close proximity to the dog.
Some dogs when they receive a correction will whip around and snap thinking
someone else has done this. It is just a startled response. You do not
want two dogs (or a dog and a person) going after the same item, getting corrected,
and thinking the other bit them thereby starting an issue between the dogs.
Once the dogs understand the correction is brought on by their behavior and
that area (or object) then I can work them around people and animals. Remember again
that if you have a dog with any aggression issues you should not be using these
items on your own. You should seek professional help!
I do set the dogs up just like when I used the spray so I can see their response.
I set something on the counters that I think they will want and then I monitor
them from afar. You might need to adjust the correction level so do not just
turn the device on and leave. Also you need to see if the correction is too high
or too light, if the positioning is set properly to control the behavior,
etc. I do the spray step first as I feel it gives the dog the idea that moving
away is the right response. They have already been taught not to touch these things. This way
when they get corrected they should know what they can do to fix it. I want
you there though in case they get confused. Without proper support and gradual
training, I find they are not generally confused with the scat mat.
There are benefits with each product type. Zones are easy
to Velcro onto garbage cans, etc., the dogs cannot as easily see them, and
people do not accidentally get corrected. The scat mats easily fit on counters and with
Velcro can sit on window sills, doors, couches, etc.
This article was co-authored by America’s Pet Store and
Michelle Blount-Jordan and may not be reproduced without permission. It has
been written to provide general information on product selection and training. It is not intended to
be a substitution for the information that comes with your product. If you
have a dog with behavioral problems and particularly with fear or aggression
issues, you should contact a reputable and local trainer who can assist you
with your dog.