Counter Shopping: Prevent or Correct a Nasty Habit

Most dogs are likely to try counter shopping when left to their devices in the kitchen. Our beloved dogs are, at heart, opportunistic scavengers.  No household, especially one where a child resides, is totally free of foodstuffs on a kitchen counter.  What better scenario to pull off an enormous “payoff”?  This happens only once, and a persistent, annoying, and potentially dangerous habit is born.

“An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure”

Benjamin Franklin must have known something about dogs, too. If your dog never discovers a bonanza in counter shopping, he’s unlikely to develop this behavior as a kitchen ritual.  Here are ways to avoid setting your dog up for shopping.

The pulse of family life is the kitchen. It is also a great place to set up your dog’s crate or puppy pen.  When there is no one in the kitchen to supervise and control the dog’s activities, place him in his crate.  It’s truly amazing what a curious puppy or dog can get into with only 5 – 10 minutes of alone time in the kitchen (and other rooms, for that matter).  There will come a time when the most interesting stimuli in the environment are objects on the counter or the food being prepared there.  Dogs are intelligent, seeking animals and naturally drawn to the most interesting stimuli at any given moment.

Train in several obedience cues, such as “sit”, “wait”, and “leave it”(an avoidance cue). When your dog responds reliably, you have tools to ask something else of him and direct his attention away from the counter.  If you must say “off”, make sure to immediately tell him what to do instead:  “sit and wait”.  Go get him something compelling to provide a substitute activity.  Use the crate to prevent repeated counter shopping interest and attempts.

An attached leash or drag line works to move your dog away from counters. Consistently re-direct him to another activity.  Provide an equally interesting chew or food stuffed toy.  Place her in the crate, if necessary.  Don’t open the door for her to practice a regrettable behavior or channel her persistence in an undesirable way.  Stepping on an attached leash is an effective way to thwart a counter launch without physically handling the dog, pushing her off, or otherwise miscommunicating your intention.  Often this strategy results in the dog’s thinking it is all a game, and he’s back for more.  Frustration sets in for everyone.

Corrective Plan for a Counter Shopper

When the big counter shopping “payoff” happens, your dog will actively browse for another bonanza. Setting up a different “what happens with the dog in the kitchen” ritual requires a plan and diligent follow through.  Without work, this behavior will continue throughout your dog’s lifetime.  It’s simply too gratifying for him to stop.

Train your dog to go to a specific spot, lie down, and stay. The spot can be an area in the kitchen, a mat, dog bed, blanket, etc…  “Go to your place” should be a distance from the counter where your dog can focus on your “down and stay” practice and not the counter.  For best results, training sessions start with a short and doable timeframe and gradually increase.  As you practice “go to your place, down, and stay”, it helps to incorporate real activities and props, such as standing at the kitchen sink and placing food on the counter.

Until your dog is a mature adult and behavior patterns are solidly established, ask for the “down and stay” in the kitchen. Complacency leads to a return of old behaviors.

You may not be off the hook with a small dog. They can’t easily snag food off the counter, but they can jump up on you and on the cabinets.  The small athletic types use chairs as a way to actually land directly on the table or counter.

To change any undesirable behavior, have a plan and take swift, calm action. Your dog learns that your boundaries are true, and an order is set.


Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2015 all rights reserved


Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC