What is Counter Surfing and Why Do Dogs Do it?

Counter-surfing is one of the most frustrating behaviors a dog can exhibit, but don’t worry: it’s fixable! Find out more about counter-surfing below!

May 4, 2024By Nikita Hillier
what is counter surfing and why dogs do it

Counter-surfing refers to when a dog jumps up onto countertops, tables, or other elevated surfaces to access and potentially eat things they shouldn’t. Some things they may try to consume include utensils, food, or household objects. This behavior can be super frustrating for dog owners and potentially dangerous for the dog.

In this comprehensive guide, we will take a look into the causes of counter-surfing, the risks associated with it, and effective strategies, such as positive reinforcement, to combat this behavior. Let’s go!

Understanding Counter-Surfing Behavior

white and brown dog counter surfing
Image Credit: Wag!

Have you ever come home or back from another room to see your dog on the counter, eating your leftovers? Or have you seen them standing against the counter to scope everything out? Well, we get it. This behavior is NOT fun. No common behavioral issues are.

Counter-surfing behavior in canines can stem from many different motivations. These motivations include hunger, curiosity, boredom, or even attention-seeking. Dogs are naturally opportunistic scavengers, and the allure of any food left unattended on countertops truly is irresistible to them.

On top of this, if a dog has previously found food on the counter, the behavior will have been reinforced. After all, counter-surfing is a low-risk, high-reward cycle. This makes it much more likely to occur again.

There’s good news, though. As noted, counter-surfing is fixable, and with some simple steps, you can prevent it.

Techniques to Prevent Counter-Surfing

brown and white dog licking kitchen counter
Image Credit: Positively.com

Positive reinforcement is a highly effective approach when it comes to modifying dogs’ behavior. Instead of punishing your dog for engaging in the undesirable behavior, positive reinforcement has a huge focus on rewarding alternative behaviors. Here are some other strategies you can implement:

  • Teaching the “leave it” command: When you see your dog about to counter-surf, say in a stern voice, “leave it.” When the dog disengages, reward them with a treat.
  • Minimize opportunities: Minimize the opportunities for counter-surfing by keeping countertops clear of food and other items. You can also use baby gates and closed doors to restrict kitchen access.
  • Be consistent and patient: Consistency is key when it comes addressing to undesirable behaviors. Reinforce the positive behaviors consistently and promptly to avoid counter-surfing. Training your dog takes time. Don’t give up or get discouraged!
  • Seek professional help, if needed: If counter-surfing persists despite your best efforts, consider talking to a dog trainer to get help. They can also teach you how to utilize some basic training tools, such as clickers.

The Dangers of Counter-Surfing

white dog laying on counter surfing
Image Credit: Monroe the Husky

Counter-surfing can pose several risks, underscoring why it’s so important to address this behavior in your dog. Some risks for both dogs and humans include:

  • Ingestion of harmful substances: Dogs may consume toxic food or substances that have been left unattended on countertops. These can include medications, chocolate, or cleaning products. Consumption can end with a vet visit–– or potentially death.
  • Choking or intestinal blockages: Ingesting non-food items or bones retrieved from the counter can pose a choking hazard or lead to intestinal blockages, requiring immediate veterinary intervention.
  • Food aggression: Dogs that get food from countertops may develop food aggression or resource-guarding behaviors, becoming possessive or aggressive toward people or other pets.
  • Damage to property: Counter-surfing behavior can result in damage to property, including broken dishes, chewed countertops, or damaged appliances. This can result in costly repairs.
  • Reinforcement of undesired behavior: Dogs need a firm but gentle hand to eradicate undesirable behaviors. If your dog senses that they can “get away” with counter-surfing, they may engage in other behaviors, such as digging through the trash.

Other Facts About Counter-Surfing

golden retriever jumping up on counter
Image Credit: Wag!

Here are some extra facts you should know when it comes to curbing counter-surfing behaviors:

  • Some dogs are predisposed to counter-surfing: Some dog breeds can be far more prone to engaging in counter-surfing behavior due to their high energy levels, prey drive, and intelligence. Breeds such as Labrador Retrievers and some larger terriers are known for their drive to scavenge for food.
  • You can employ management techniques: In addition to positive reinforcement, implementing management techniques (such as using deterrents like motion-activated lights or repellent sprays) can stop counter-surfing.
  • Your dog may need more stimulation: Providing adequate physical exercise and mental stimulation for your dog can help alleviate boredom and reduce the likelihood of engaging in undesirable behaviors, like counter-surfing.
  • Supervision and training are critical: Supervising your dog closely when they are in the kitchen or other areas with countertops will help you intervene as soon as the counter-surfing occurs or if they attempt it. Consistent training will ensure that your dog knows it isn’t the right thing to do.

You Can Stop Your Dog from Counter-Surfing

dog sniffing leftover chicken on bench
Image Credit: The Spruce Pets

Counter-surfing behavior in dogs can pose a very specific and significant challenge for owners. It can even result in safety risks and property damage! That is why it is so important to understand the behavior, the motivations behind it, and how you can use positive reinforcement techniques to encourage desirable alternatives for your dog.

On top of this, awareness of the dangers associated with counter-surfing and proactive management strategies can help ensure the safety, health, and well-being of your dog, you, and your household items. With patience, consistency, and appropriate training, counter-surfing behavior can be successfully addressed.

It can help to foster a harmonious relationship between dogs and their human companions. Dogs aren’t always easy pets to have, but they are very much worth it. They provide love, companionship, and hours of entertainment. So, when they’re dealing with something, make sure you’re open to helping them out and making their lives better.

Nikita Hillier
By Nikita Hillier

Nikita is a huge animal lover who has grown up on a farm with many different animals, from dogs and cats to horses and cows! She has a lot of experience in the equine industry and is even in the process of studying for an internationally accredited Equine Sports Massage Certificate! In her spare time, she enjoys writing and spending time with her beloved animals!