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Counter Surfing

Surfing immediately makes me think back to my childhood dream of being called Gidget and the dreamy world of boogie boards and California beaches. The laid-back lifestyle, bonfires on the beach, and the Big Kahuna were all going to be in my future! Unfortunately the closest I’ve come to it is being a guest speaker in Southern California on counter surfing with Moon-doggy, the family pet!

 For years I always had dogs that either couldn’t reach the kitchen counter or had zero food drive! This simple fact allowed me to develop some pretty bad kitchen habits. Today as I have my very first ‘official’ (which means not a foster, rescue or temporary Golden Retriever), I have come to be leery of the careless kitchen duties that I have consulted so many about. Kobe, our young boy, is now nine months old. He is lovely, happy, and very, very soft. This means I only have to think about correcting him rather than actually doing anything. My practice has always been ‘teach them what you want rather than correcting the stuff you don’t like’! To-date we haven’t had to deal with the notorious image of our Golden grazing across whatever crumbs might have been left after dinner. He definitely loves food and he certainly is capable of reaching the top of the counter…we’re simply dealing with a dog who doesn’t believe it’s an option.

Any dog that will take the bait the moment you step out of the room will need some serious training. Of course you can take a proactive approach of a tidier lifestyle but either way you have some serious work cut out for you. Since history is the best predictor of future behaviour, your dog believes success is around every corner and persistence will pay! Plus, if your dog’s desire for food takes him over the edge, then you may be in for a lifetime of stolen chicken, holey bread, and furry butter.

If you are one of the lucky ones and haven’t yet experienced this phenomena, I will suggest a few pointers to help reduce the chances of this from developing…because it may only be a matter of time before your pup discovers the bounty that awaits him. Our first option will require you to be in the room and the second step is to establish that under no circumstances is the counter for his investigation.

This first ‘setup’ is meant for any age of dog that is displaying interest in your food. Always keep your reaction both age and sensitivity-level appropriate. While you nibble on a snack, allow your pup to show interest. He mustn’t climb up or pester you - just allow him to watch. As his natural intelligence processes the options ahead, you will gradually make it more possible for him to consider taking it out of your hand or plate. Do not warn him about leaving the food. You don’t want to inadvertently teach him good behaviour is only necessary when you’re in the room. When the moment comes that he makes a move towards the food, you will startle him silly. Now for my pup Kobe, an actual gasp works like a charm. Then I praise him for backing up and I go back to eating my food. If your pup has a bit more gumption, make sure you really surprise him, not by yelling at him but by causing things around you to move and shake. I’ll often bump the table, skid something across the counter or even jolt the dog with my arms as I appear startled! Your immediate apology (or concern) suggests you didn’t haven’t anything to do with it. It was his behaviour that caused the sky to come crashing down…well that’s a bit exaggerated, but you get the idea!

You must feel fairly confident that your pup would never attempt to grab food while you are in the room before you move on to the next step. Kobe is now at the stage where I could even eat a meal with him directly beside me on the couch or even sitting on the floor eye level and he still wouldn’t take something. Just a side note ~ I actually give him food from the table just to prove a point! This is about manners not desire. Regardless of how much your dog loves food, he/she shouldn’t think he can steal stuff. So now we teach him, even when the opportunity looks to his favour, taking it is still a risky proposition. Now you can leave the food on the coffee table and step out of the room. Don’t point out the food and encourage him to go for it. If he follows you out of the room, try again later. Our goal is to suggest we are finished with it and no longer paying attention. If the dog stays in the room, be aware and be sneaky. If he begins to sniff or put his nose over the table, you must immediately startle him till he stops and then gently praise him for it. If you have to wrestle him to the ground in order to confiscate the food, training is done for the day. You will go back to the first step for a little while longer.

Counter surfing in an adult dog is a more difficult proposition. This is a hard habit to break and falling off the wagon is an unfortunate possibility. As simple as it sounds, if he’s given the opportunity to make mistakes, you’ll be at this for a very long time. Keep all counter tops free of desirables unless you’re in the room. Once you put out the bait, you must remain alert. I prefer to startle the dog just as he attempts to jump, so your timing in all of this is critical. The general rule for aversion therapy is that the consequence must match the dog’s desire. So whether you are giving a confrontational correction or using simultaneous conditioning, the dog must be convinced. Using a confrontational approach might help you feel better but can create a lasting negative impact on your relationship. Simultaneous conditioning allows you to remain the good guy while changing the undesirable behaviour of your pet.

If you have a counter surfer living in your home, you’re dealing with an addict! Regardless of the techniques you’ve tried, he/she hasn’t been convinced this isn’t good for him/her. So whether he is an old pro or just a beginner, we need to change your approach. The suggestions outlined in this article come down to prevention and conviction. Without it, you’ll be chasing your tail in this endeavor. If there is an issue of your dog’s safety, please contact a professional. Eating a loaf of bread or inhaling a pound of butter might frustrate you but it usually is only accompanied with some minor gastrointestinal concerns. Happy cleaning!

By Cat Cino - Cat & Jack K9 Safety