Canine Case Files: Cato – Counter Shopping – Part 1

Any dog that spends time in the kitchen (and that would be most of them) becomes curious about the counters and tabletop at some point.  Cato, the Weimaraner, was no exception.  (Names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.)

After several valuable food snags off the counter, he turned into a relentless shopper.  Any moment that his mind was idle, he had his paws on the counter, scouting.  The kitchen island was his favorite.  With the holiday season approaching, there would be lots of friends and family around.  And lots of food out and available to them.  Something had to be done.

Crate as a Management Option

The first order of business was to remove Cato’s opportunities to shop the counter. Counter shopping dogs cannot be in the kitchen unobserved, as this would allow the environment to control behavior.  Change requires human intervention.  Clear the space of ANYTHING interesting for him.  The only object on the kitchen island for the time being was a laptop.  Cato’s owner reported that he followed her around most of the day but disappeared to counter shop.  She attached a bell to his collar to alert her when he was on the move. 

Cato had a crate in the kitchen.  He was accustomed to containment when no one was home and when his primary caregiver was in the house.  He was not accustomed to containment when the rest of the family was home.  Using duration thresholds as well as high value enrichment activities, he adapted to crate time when everyone was home.  This was a great way to manage the counter shopping while family members were cooking and eating meals. 

“Leave It” Cue

Changing behaviors is a balance of teaching skills (training) and preventing continued practice of undesirable behaviors (management).  We taught Cato a “leave it” cue.  This is an avoidance cue, which means “not yours”.  We looked for any avoidance gesture on Cato’s part.  Gestures might include looking away from the “leave it” object or place, looking at the handler, or backing away.  Avoidance is marked and reinforced with food. 

Training in “leave it” is easier when several steps are included, starting with an object in the hand and moving to placing it in the forbidden zone.  Whenever Cato glanced toward the island, his handler asked him to “leave it”.  He looked away from the counter to her.  (We marked this behavior with a clicker.)  She reinforced his response with a bite of food.  He was then called away from the immediate area to prevent his returning to the temptation. 

Beware of repeating, “leave it”.  Cato could learn a sequence of looking at, or approaching the counter, hearing the “leave it” cue, responding by looking at his handler, and getting a treat.  Interest in the counter is likely to increase rather than diminish.

Alternative Behaviors

So now what? We have directed Cato away from the counter, but that is not the end of the road.  We must provide him with an alternative behavior. Otherwise, he is likely to go back to the counter.  Cato likes to lie down on a runner by a sliding door.  He often chooses to go there.  We will use his preference to train in the alternative behavior. 

Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2020 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC