. What do each of these dogs have in common? FUN! Look at the resourcefulness of these pets. Take in that wonderful smile. Is that not face to die for? What do you think the owner of each of these dogs have in common? FRUSTRATION!
Let’s talk about
When I was in college (I mention that, otherwise no one could guess) I had a wonderful German Shepherd named, Little Boy. He was anything but little, but he was everything wonderful. Our house on campus was so small that we had to keep him outside, which just killed me. The problem was not with me, but with my wife. I guess she had good reason. One day we were having a very special dinner, roast. Understand, meat for us was a rarity. With three children and no money, meat was just unaffordable. We ate a lot of mac/cheese, eggs/beans, soups, but more seldom than seldom, meat. We were like Pavlov’s dog with that roast on the table. Remember the Christmas Story? The turkey on the table? The dogs? Yep, that is what happened. I had let Little Boy out of his fenced area. Linda was in the kitchen rustling around, I was in another room (we didn’t have that many). I heard a yell and “#*&@ Littler Boy.” I ran from the other room (our rooms were not very large), and all I saw was a butt and tail exiting the back door. The meat was gone, Linda was upset, and Little Boy was banished, exiled to his fence, and we had potatoes and carrots for dinner.
If you are laughing about this, it is not because this is funny (it is now) but yours is a sympathetic laugh. Nearly all who read this has had a similar event. Some of you have called me, pulling your hair and mumbling things unrepeatable. And your poor dog! In these situations I have to calm the owner and rescue the dog. When the owner is telling me the kitchen misbehaviors of Fido, I quietly laugh. The descriptions are like the Marmaduke cartoons. I sometimes jest with the owner and say, “That is so much like a dog.”
My daughter’s dogs are the King and Prince of Counter Surfing. Cooper is a Flat Coated Retriever and Oliver is a Black Lab. Sandwiches, pizza, hamburgers, steak, crackers, bread, hot dogs, a chocolate cake (whole cake), all gone. These dogs are no respecters of food. Cooper had extensive training as he went through my behaviorism program with me. Attaching a rope on the door handle, I taught Cooper to open the refrigerator. Linda was baking bread. We have a towel on the oven door handle. Thinking nothing about it we went about working in the house. When we came to the kitchen the bread pan was on the floor and half of the loaf of bread was gone. That ornery Cooper, seeing a towel on the oven handle, opened the door and found a warm treasure that met the delight of his palate. Now don’t tell me dogs do not generalize. I rescued Cooper to a car ride so Linda could calm down.
Let me brag about my dogs. Nekayah is a Louisiana Catahoula Leopard, and Dexter is a Great Pyrenees. Both have had service dog training and Nekayah serves us as a Service Dog. They have had extensive training. We can leave a plate of grilled hamburgers on the table, grilled steaks on the counter, or food on the patio table. Neither of our dogs will touch. They may take a few whiffs,
But I have never had either of them “steal” anything with one of us there or none of us there. This is because Nekayah, Dexter and I had a very specific conversation and they cooperated with me in proper training to overcome these temptations. When Cooper is here Nekayah and Dexter go to another room. They’re not about to let Cooper get them in trouble. He is on his own.
Besides “#@$&!$#” what can one do to stop this aggravating behavior from one’s pet? Or, is there anything that works? There are so many powerful odors. If we are preparing stew, we smell stew. Fido layers the odors. He smells meat, potatoes, and carrots. So the first thing we need to realize is that these are powerful temptations for Fido. Understanding this will help us to keep our expectations reasonable. When you cook, do you not take a taste? Don’t expect more from your dog than you can expect of yourself.
Here are a couple of things you can avoid in the kitchen with your dog.
- Do not yell, scold, or punish Fido. He is acting naturally and believes your cooking and baking are as good as you hope others will think. Some will have a water spray bottle handy to spray Fido in the face if he comes close to the counters.
- Do not hit Fido. Don’t slap his nose. You do not want Fido to fear you.
- Do not push Fido away or down. This reinforces his behavior and turns into a game.Jumping up on the counter is self-reinforcing and you do not want to make it “really” fun.
- Do not get an air horn, marble can, or a shock collar. Do not purchase shock pads, tack strips, or double sided duct tape.
- One source advised you come up with different “booby-traps.” This same source suggested “aversion therapy” for Fido. Now, I was a therapist in a past career. I can only imagine what “aversive therapy is and it doesn’t sound therapeutic.
It is in Fido’s genes to scavenge. Also, if Fido has found food there before then he will check it out again. That being true then we are complicit in his behavior. On our side, counter surfing can be dangerous. Fido may get scalded. He may break a plate and get glass shards in his paw. He may get a pill or other objects that can be lethal.
Okay, that’s enough of the don’ts. Let’s talk about resolutions to the unwanted behavior of counter surfing. Are you ready for this? The onus is on you. If you do not want Fido jumping up on the counter, you have to help him. You cannot expect Fido to just “know.” The first step you must take is to remove the temptation. No, I don’t mean you need to tear the counters out. I mean you must manage the temptation. Keep the counters clean. Move things to the back of the counter. Place a cake in the oven or microwave, or refrigerator. Have a bread box. Keep the lower cupboards closed. Keep the lid on the trash can. Take the chicken bones OUT to the trash can outside. The bones smell good, but can splinter, so why temp by having the throwaway in the house trash? The point is, good management helps to set Fido up for success. Booby traps help set Fido up for failure.
The real place to start with Fido is when he is a puppy. The moment we take ownership of Fido, his training begins. The real problem with counter surfing is Fido’s jumping. We who own pets must teach Fido what we do not want very early, by teaching him what we do want, what is allowed. Because he is so cute owners allow the little guy to get away with behaviors as a puppy, thinking he will grow out of them. He won’t. By doing this the owner is doing a bait and switch which leaves Fido very confused which causes other unnecessary issues. My personal opinion is that every puppy should be crate trained. The crate should be the best and the safest place in the house. Fido can be taught to go to his crate on cue, or to go to his crate when you are working in the kitchen.
If you dog is adolescent or older and you are just wanting to stop this unwanted behavior, you can. Some are afraid because their dog has been allowed to counter surf Fido is too old or the behavior is too ingrained to be changed. That is not true. Age does not matter. How long it has gone on does not matter. Unless a dog is mentally or physically impaired, with Clicker or Marker training, Fido can be taught any new behavior. If you do not understand Clicker Training, please find my article titled, WHEN? WHY? – CLICKER TRAINING. You will find this article under the Education or Training tabs. Reading that article will help you understand all of my philosophy and methods of training.
So MANAGEMENT is the first step in curbing counter surfing. Training is step two. You may ask, “What do I train?” I’m glad you asked.
You can train, “FOUR ON THE FLOOR.” This is primarily a jumping issue. Now, if you have a Great Dane then the issue is his height and “Four on the Floor” is not the only alternative. Four on the Floor is easy to capture. Any time Fido puts his paws on a chair, jumps up on you, have your clicker. When he drops his paws on the floor, click and treat Fido. Act like you are working on the counter tops, or you may have work that needs done. Fido will show interest and may put his paws on the counter. Totally ignore that behavior. Have your clicker ready and when Fido puts his paws on the floor (watch him closely) when his paws touch the floor, click and treat Fido. Timing is important. Click when Fido’s paws touch the floor. If you are late with the click and Fido turns his head, he may think that is what you are marking. You can give Fido one treat, or you can give him two or three. Fido will think, “Wow, when my paws are on the floor it is better than being on the counter.” Ignore the behavior you do not want, reinforce the behavior you do want.
“GO TO YOUR PLACE.”
This is a great alternative. You can use Fido’s crate, or you can lace a pad on the floor. With your clicker and treats ready capture Fido’s going to the mat. You will not use words until you get the behavior, but when you do, you can use “place” or “mat.” The way you begin is to stand near the mat and when Fido even looks at it, you click and treat. This is all by successive approximation. Any interaction with the mat elicits a click and treat. Remember, one click and treat 1, 2, or 3 treats. Some people have misunderstood the clicker and click a couple of times. It is just one click, then treat.
When Fido is going to the mat reliably, then you can begin introducing the cue. Let’s use “place.” As Fido steps on the mat say, “Place,” click and treat. Keep backing your cue up so when Fido is a few feet away, you say, “Place,” Fido goes to the mat, click and treat. To help you reset Fido, you can toss the treat a few feet away from the mat, and then you can re-cue him. You can teach him to lay on the mat and then, when you ask him to “go to your place,” Fido will go to the mat and lay down. Now you can begin adding duration and distractions.
You can use a mat because it is easier to move around. You can have it near or in the kitchen so Fido can watch what you are doing. You can have a Gong toy filled with good things, and let him enjoy that. This tends to be a little more mobile than a crate.
Some people do not want Fido in the kitchen at all. That is easy. Teach Fido where he can be. You can teach him to not go closer than the tack strip in the door way, or the carpet edge. He will put his paws just over the edge, but this is also a great alternative. You can teach Fido to stay until released.
Here is where you succeed or fail. CONSISTENCY, CONSISTENCY! Every person in the home, including children, must be on the same page. If it appears Fido is just not getting it, I will guarantee it is because he is getting conflicting messages. Inconsistency is the sure way to set Fido up for failure. Guess who will be blamed? That’s correct. Fido. So involve everyone in the training. You will have to instruct visitors. If a family member comes to visit and wants to drop a piece of cheese for Fido, tell her “No.” CONSISTENCY, CONSISTENCY!
Fido may have a relapse every now and then. Do not scold, just get the clicker out and do a refresher course. In time it will be natural for Fido to go to his place when you begin messing in the kitchen. You will turn to cue him to his “place,” to discover he is already there. You may want him near you and just sit near you while you work in the kitchen. Either way you have him with “Four on the Floor,” or lying in his “place.” The counter surfing problem is resolved. You are happier, Fido is happier, and it was achieved without yelling, or “#*&%@%.” The watershed to this is that you now have a deeper relationship with Fido. He knows you are pleased and you know he is happy.
WOW! What a great outcome