You put food on the kitchen counter and turn your back for a few minutes. Moments later, the food has vanished and your pet is standing next to the counter. She looks innocent enough, but she’s licking her lips. Has this scenario happened in your house? If so, it doesn’t take a detective to determine that you have a pet who’s a counter surfer.
How can I prevent my pet from getting on counters and tables?
The simplest solution, of course, is to manage the situation so that your pet doesn’t have access to food on the counters. Here are some tips:
Never keep food on your counters when you’re not cooking. If your pet doesn’t find any food when he jumps up, he’s not getting rewarded for counter surfing.
Wipe the counter tops thoroughly when you are done cooking so that there’s no delicious residue for the dog to lick up. Licking something tasty on a counter can be just as rewarding as finding a piece of food to snack on.
Crate your pet during meal preparation. The process of cooking tends to involve food spread out on the counters, making it easy for your pet to snag a morsel when you’re not looking. If you don’t have a crate, you can use a baby gate in the doorway to restrict access to the kitchen or put your pet in another room while you cook.
Steps to teach a dog not to get on the counter:
To discourage counter surfing, there are a couple behaviors you can teach your dog. “Leave it” is a useful cue for many situations, not the least of which is managing counter surfing. To start training your dog to leave it, go somewhere quiet and less exciting to the dog than the kitchen. Here are the steps to follow:
- With a treat in both hands, place your hands behind your back.
- Make a fist with one hand and offer that hand to your dog, letting him sniff your fist.
- Say “Leave it” and wait until he is done sniffing. As soon as he’s done sniffing, say “Yes,” or click with a clicker, and offer him the treat from the other hand.
- Keep doing this until your dog immediately stops sniffing your hand when you say “Leave it.” When this happens consistently, you are ready to move on to the next step.
- Start by leashing the dog and then toss a treat outside of his reach. Say “Leave it” and wait until he stops sniffing and pulling toward the treat.
- When he stops sniffing and pulling, say “Yes” (or click) and give him a treat that he likes even more than the one on the floor. Over time, by practicing this exercise, your dog should stop pulling as soon as you give the “Leave it” cue.
- Make sure the treats with which you are rewarding him are especially tasty, not just plain old kibble. By doing so, you are teaching him that asking him to leave it doesn’t mean he won’t get anything. (On the contrary, he might get something more delicious instead.) When trying to dissuade a counter surfer, you need to help him learn that leaving the human food alone is more rewarding than counter surfing.
“Off” is another useful cue to teach your counter surfer. Here’s how to do it:
- When he jumps up onto the counter in search of food, put a dog treat in front of his nose. When you have his attention, use the treat as a lure to guide him off the counter and onto the floor, saying “Off.”
- When his feet hit the ground, say “Yes” (or click) and give him the treat.
- After practicing this exercise three or four times, say “Off” instead of placing a treat in front of his nose to lure him off. If he jumps off the counter, praise him, say “Yes” (or click) and give him a treat.
- If he doesn’t jump off, you might need to lure him off the counter with treats a few more times before he figures out that “Off” means that his paws should come off the counter and go back on the floor. Some dogs learn the cue quickly while others take a little more time. Your dog is an individual and will learn at his own pace.
You can also train your dog to go to his bed or special place while you cook or prepare food. This cue is useful when he is hanging out in the kitchen with you and starts getting a little too interested in the food, but your hands are busy so you can’t put him in the crate or relocate him. If you train him to go to his place on cue, he relocates himself. Here are the steps:
- Begin by tossing some treats onto a dog bed or mat and when your dog goes over to investigate, say “Yes” (or click).
- After you do this several times, your dog will probably start going over to his bed without any treats to prompt him. When he starts walking over to his bed, say whatever cue you want to use (for example, “Bed”) and then when he gets there, mark it with a “Yes” or click, and give him some treats.
- Teach your dog to go to his place
Cat on the countertops?
It's just plain unsanitary to have your kitty’s paws walking all over the place you prepare your food. The first step in keeping your cat off countertops and tables is to remove any opportunity or temptation. As responsible pet owners, we want to give our pets the best chance possible to behave well. Try these tips to keep your cat out of the kitchen.
- Make sure all your food items are put away or stored in cat-proof containers such as Tupperware or a bread bin.
- Put a lid on your garbage can and place it somewhere your cat cannot reach it, such as a closed cupboard.
- Install child-proof latches on cabinets.
- Close doors to keep your cat out of certain areas when you are not around to supervise.
- Provide an alternative elevated space for your cat. Cat trees are great for this, or you can simply clear off a top shelf of a bookcase. Windows and windowsills are also a great place for a cat to perch.
- Use bits of cat food to encourage your cat to choose the alternative location. Make sure to praise your cat whenever they are sitting in the preferred location. If the surface is hard, make it more cozy by placing a towel or a blanket down to soften it up.
When you’re not going to be around, make sure you remove temptation either by blocking off access to the kitchen or by keeping the counters clear of food. Remember, pets are opportunists, so it’s unfair to expect your pet to ignore that delicious loaf of bread you just baked and left cooling on the counter while you run to the grocery store.