Why is My Dog Stealing Food?
Stealing Food From Counters:
Many dog owners struggle daily with their dogs stealing food from the kitchen counter. “Counter Surfing” as we affectionately call it, can not only be a nuisance, it can be dangerous to a dog. You may wonder ‘why is my dog stealing food?’.
In order to change this problem behavior, it is important to understand why dogs do this. Beyond the obvious reason that they like to eat, almost all dogs are stimulated by the intriguing scents coming from the various food items that are being prepared on our kitchen counters. So, they are initially going to jump up on the counter because they are curious and they want to eat what is up there. Once they are successful at eating something yummy that was found on the counter, they have learned that stealing food is very rewarding. This can become a real problem because dogs, in general, are very self-rewarding.
Counter Surfing can also be dangerous to a dog. It is very possible for a dog to steal a food item that could cause medical problems such as allergies, choking, upset stomach or even toxic reactions. In addition, some dogs will be less likely to want to eat their own dog food if they have had the taste of forbidden foods
The following is a Treatment Plan for Food Stealing based on Positive Training Methods:
Positive Reinforcement of Alternate Behaviors
This means rewarding your dog for a more desired behavior instead of jumping on the counter. To do this, set up a situation where food is on the counter and your dog knows it. Practice a simple known obedience cue such as Sit or Sit-Stay near the counter with food on it. When the dog obeys the command and does not jump on the counter, you should reward the dog with a small treat, a favorite toy or praise.
Management of the Problem and Setting the Dog up to Succeed
Inadvertently, many dog owners encourage their dogs to jump on counters without realizing it. If you are preparing food on the counter and accidentally drop a piece, more than likely your dog gobbles it up very quickly. You have just taught your dog that yummy food comes from the counter. You should never feed your dog from the counter! It is also a good idea to not feed your dog their meals in the kitchen area. A better alternative would be a breakfast area away from counters. Laundry rooms and hallways nearby are other options.
As mentioned earlier, dogs are very self-rewarding. Every single time a dog gets food from the counter, he is rewarded for the behavior. It only takes an occasional reward to keep the dog coming back at every opportunity in hopes of hitting the jackpot.
It is very important to prevent your dog from going near the kitchen counters with food unless you are there to supervise. When you are not able to supervise your dog 100% in the kitchen, the use of a baby gate in the doorway is very helpful. Another solution is to boundary-train your dog from the kitchen. This method teaches the dog not to cross a boundary line (such as a doorway) that you have set. Your Personal Dog Trainer can assist you with boundary training techniques.
To successfully manage this problem behavior and set your dog up to succeed, you must not leave food of any kind on the counter when you are not in the kitchen.
Consequences for Food Stealing
Consequences are often used to aid in the correcting of problem behaviors. The idea here is to make food stealing an unappealing task. You will find that most dogs only steal food when no one is watching. With that in mind, a proper booby-trap on the counter can be a useful aid for training. A proper booby-trap can be made with a shaker can (used soda can holding 20 pennies with the top secured with tape), string and double-sided tape. Start with a large piece of meat that your dog cannot swallow whole and tie a string to one end and then tie the other end to the shaker can. Set the shaker can in the cabinet above the meat with no slack in the string. Next, put double-sided tape on the counter in front of the meat where your dog’s paws are likely to touch when he jumps up. Most dogs find the tape uncomfortable. The purpose of these two things is to startle the dog enough to make him give up the idea of stealing the meat.
Consistency in Dealing with Food Stealing
Consistency is critical in dog training, especially when treating a problem behavior. Each time the dog is able to jump up and get the food he is after, he is getting a very special reward for this behavior.
For more information on Boundary Training and other Problem Behaviors, you can contact:
Christi Phillips, CPDT with Posh Paws Pet Care, LLC
Visit our website at PoshPawsPetCareSC.com
Or send us a note from our contact page here.
Published in the Lowcountry Dog Magazine’s October/November 2010 Edition