Since my dogs are chihuahuas, table surfing seldom comes up as a problem in our household. They are simply too short to get up on the counters or dining room table. At least, most of them. When Rocco was a puppy our tables and chairs were lower, and he did indeed experiment with table surfing.
The most memorable time involved a hot buttered rum around Christmas time. I had just made myself one and settled down with a good book in the living room, when one of the kids needed me. I went to check on them and came back to an almost empty cup.
Thinking my husband had decided to sneak my drink, I simply went back to reading—until our Rocco wobbled by looking decidedly tipsy. Fortunately, he was fine, and I was a lot more careful about where I put my holiday drinks from then on.
Table surfing, or for big dogs counter surfing, can be a big problem. Nothing ruins Thanksgiving dinner like finding out your dog has eaten the Thanksgiving turkey—and now needs surgery to save him from a perforated bowel.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to help cure a dog of table surfing. Here’s a few tips to help.
The best way to stop your dog checking high surfaces for food is to make sure they don’t start. This isn’t very helpful if your dog already does it, but if they don’t, a few practical steps can keep them from trying.
- Don’t leave food unsupervised
Leaving a bread loaf on the kitchen counter, or crumbs from cooking are a reward for counter surfing. Don’t leave food alone where your dog may be tempted to try and access it.
When given a choice, dogs would actually rather work for their food than get it out of a bowl. That means your food is even more appealing because it represents a challenge.
- Give your pup something to do while eating
You can tap into his instincts to hunt and work for food andkeep him out of the kitchen while you’re cooking and eating, by stuffing a kong or other treat puzzle for him while you work. This keeps him off the counters, gives him something appropriate to do, and provides enrichment all in one.
- Limit Access
Putting up baby gates in the kitchen and pushing chairs in are all easy, practical ways you can do to help make it harder for your pet to climb on the furniture. Do this to prevent your pet from ever starting counter or table surfing, but also to help stop them if they already do.
- Teach a solid place command
Your dog doesn’t know counter surfing or table surfing is inappropriate. They see food, they want it, they figure out how to access it. For all they know this is your way of teaching them to do these things, like when we use treats to lure a dog onto a platform for a trick.
Teaching them to do something else, like go to a bed and lay down, gives them something to do that is incompatible with stealing food.
Preventing your pup from eating off the table or counter is ideal, but dogs who have already learned to table surf can be…persistent. The more often your dog is rewarded with something from the table or counter, the more engrained the activity becomes.
When you know your dog is a table surfer, you may need to work a little harder to keep your pup from table surfing.
This might mean fencing off the dining room or kitchen with an X-pen while eating to physically prevent them from approaching, or if they don’t respect that kind of boundary kenneling them when eating or cooking.
Mcann Dog Training recommends using a piece of American cheese to train your pup not to table surf. Unwrap the cheese and stick it to the edge of the counter or table. Your dog should be able to smell it and possibly see a narrow edge of it.
Bring your dog over with a leash and harness on. (Small dogs usually access the table by a chair first. If that’s how your dog gets on the table, make sure the cheese is near their access point.)
Step on the leash so that it’s slack as long as they are standing or sitting still (no pressure at all.) If they try to jump on the chair, or jump up to look at a low table, this will prevent them from being successful.
Reward them heavily for making no effort to get the cheese. Even if they smell it and see it, they should learn that it’s more rewarding to get the snacks you’re handing out for ignoring it, then trying unsuccessfully for the cheese.
As your dog gets better at ignoring food, you can gradually work on being able to move around the kitchen or table, always on leash so you can prevent any efforts to get the food.
· When you’re gone
Many dogs do a fine job of learning “leave it” when in a training session or when the person is there. As long as you are cooking or eating, they will make no effort to get on the table. Good dog!
Then their owner leaves, and suddenly they are whisking onto that table to slurp up any crumbs. Unfortunately, this is pretty normal. It’s not that your dog knows this is bad, but they know that you correct them when they are there, but don’t correct them when you are not.
They quickly learn that you being absent is a condition that needs to be met before they can table surf. Some dogs will table surf if you break eye contact, while others will only do it if you completely leave the building.
Zak George does a wonderful job of showing you how to deal with this fairly. In order to teach your dog that counter surfing is not okay even when you’re not there, you’re going to have to add distance gradually. I highly recommend the video to see Zak work in action with a dog that has counter surfing issues.
While you are working on training your pet not to swipe things off the table or counter, it’s important to make sure they don’t have opportunities to do so outside of training sessions. If you must leave the house and can’t watch them, make sure they can’t access the counter or table at all.
For little dogs this is usually as simple as pushing in the chairs, but if your dog can really jump, you may need to baby gate off the kitchen or shut them in a different room when you are out.
Together these tips should help you keep your pet on the floor, where they belong.
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