My 6 year Australian Shepherd has recently discovered the sport of Counter Surfing aka stealing my food from my counter, table, desk, etc. This is a brand new behaviour for him and pretty annoying I might add.
I’ve honestly never really had to worry about counter surfing as all my dogs would typically not take something off a table even a low coffee table. Well those days are gone. Just yesterday I spotted my lovely boy standing on my desk chair and trying to remove some peanut butter toast from my desk. I asked him to “leave it” which he did but I knew if I hadn’t of spotted him my breakfast would have been gone.
So what is counter surfing? It’s when a dog takes food from somewhere they shouldn’t – most families it’s counters – and self rewards for the behaviour. For some dogs even a one time success creates a lifetime problem. My biggest concern about it isn’t even the lose of my meal it’s that sometimes I eat things that are dangerous to dogs like avocados or cooked chicken with bones in it.
So how do I keep my dog safe? Here’s the plan:
- Reduce the likelihood of a steal with good management. This means I won’t leave food out unattended at all. Even though I have a kid. This means when I bring her meal to the table I will stand there until she physically sits down and come back as soon as she’s done. So no excuses from parents here! We are all in the same boat.
- Work on some impulse control exercises with supervision and set the dog up for success. We’re going to revisit our leave it skills. I’ll start slow and work my way up to a tasty peanut butter kong on a plate on my coffee table. I’m going to ensure my dog never gets the chance to steal in these circumstances (you may need to tether your dog as back up but chances are if you need a leash you’ve moved through the skill too quickly).
- Evaluate his daily games and activities. My Australian Shepherd is a highly active guy with a sharp mind. I may need to increase his interactive toys – like kongs – as well as take him on some new hikes to explore some interesting smells.
Now for you beginners out there here’s out to teach a Leave It:
- Start with 2 treats, 1 in each hand
- Show the dog 1 hand with the treat in it
- Say “Leave It” once at the beginning and close hand
- Wait for dog to look away
- Say “Yes” and reward with the treat in the other hand as soon as they look away (for any reason). Do not reward with the leave it treat.
Once your dog is easily leaving a closed hand (switch hands a few times).
- Same exercise but leave your hand open instead of closed. If your dog goes to snag the treat just gently close your hand and wait. Once they back up open the hand again.
- When the dog leaves it with the open say “Yes” and reward with the other treat.
Once your dog is great with the hands move to the floor. Place a hand or foot over the treat if your dog goes to grab it. You can also place the treat on a coffee table or something similar.
Ensure your dog doesn’t get to steal though.