How To Stop Your Malamute From Counter Surfing
Why Do Dogs Counter Surf?
The theory is that dogs counter cruise or counter surf because they want to be like their human counterparts.
They see us preparing food, standing upright and they really just want to emulate our behaviors.
This author almost agrees with that theory because I've planted flowers before while my three malamutes were beside me and had them dig them right back up ten minutes later. I did get the impression that they were trying to "help" me in their own way though with disastrous results for my plants. When I planted the plants with them out of sight, they never bothered them.
That said, I do think certain dog breeds and certain dogs in particular are more food motivated and the temptation to grab something that was obviously left out for them is harder to overcome.
The fiend in the picture below is my 1-1/2 year old malamute. However, her 3-year-old uncle is fondly named The Hamburglar and for good reason. That dog has snagged more food than I care to think about and made enemies of most of my family members who visit on occasion.
So how do you stop your dog from carrying out this natural though objectional behavior?
Training--and more training if you happen to be working with a malamute--or three.
Best Ways to Stop Counter Stealing
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure they say. It's true in this case as well. Some basic rules that usually serve to eliminate the problem:
- Keep your counters as relatively clear of tempting foods as possible if your dog has free roaming privileges
- Train your dog to go to a spot at the perimeter of the kitchen and only stay there
- Work with your dog(s) to stay out of the kitchen when you're working there--my phrase is "get OUT of the kitchen"
- If you can't trust your dog to not jump up on counters as soon as you leave the room and there's something tempting on the counter, put it in the cabinet or the fridge--out of sight, out of mind
- Reward your dog for being in the kitchen with all paws on the floor! This seems a little silly but rewarding good behavior is better than rewarding bad behavior--see below
- Make sure your dog is properly fed and that he or she is not hungry and trying to "beef" up his or her diet!
- Remember that dogs are dogs--a nice juicy hamburger laying on the coffee table may just be too tempting to resist.
- Teach the command "Leave it!" and practice it often--it can save a dog's life. This may not work with counter stealing (as it's usually too late) but the dog should know when to drop something that is potentially life threatening immediately
- If all else fails, use one of the training methods below--set the dog up and correct the behavior appropriately
Don'ts for Training Dogs To Stay Off Counters
These things are counter productive and will likely reinforce the behavior rather than help curb it.
- Do not kick, hit or otherwise abuse your dog for jumping up on the counter--even if he snagged a pound of bacon or a tray of meatballs. It's tempting (been there, done that) but this is abusive behavior and will not gain you any respect from your dog. Nor will it fix this behavior!
- If your dog snags something from the counter and you catch them in the act, do not give chase. If you do, this reinforces the behavior by letting your dog know that he or she has something valuable to you. If it's something that is dangerous for the dog to eat, get it back but without pursuing the dog in a frenzy, screaming and making a huge scene out of it. (This is where "Leave it" becomes vital in a dog's training)
- If you're training your dog to stay off the counters or leave things alone, try to stay as detached from the dog as possible--meaning attention is attention and if you are watching the dog constantly, the training will not be as effective as if the reprimand comes from out of nowhere or is issued in a controlled, detached manner such as leash correction. Take the human out of it more or less and you will have greater success as you have reduced "prize envy."
- People who routinely feed their dogs from the table have more problems with counter surfing dogs. This is in part due to the fact that the dog believes that he or she is in a sharing relationship with their owner. Treats should be given as rewards but bits of food especially from the table should never be given to the dog. It encourages begging behavior which in turns leads to more aggressive behavior towards food in general. (If you want to give your dog a scrap of something, drop it into the food bowl when he or she isn't looking---again it came from the heavens and won't be viewed as a right or a possession.)
Training Malamutes to Stay Off Counters
This author is very good at training malamutes--most of the time. However, this is one bad habit that has been very hard to break in my dogs. Two of my three dogs are horrible thieves even though they are well versed in the command "Leave it!" and I can drop anything in front of them and they will leave it alone.
The problem is most of the time they steal something without someone catching them.
Griffin the 3-year-old malamute ate 11 sauerkraut and pumpkin muffins. Had I added in the 1 cup of chocolate chips the recipe called for, we would have been on our way to the emergency dog hospital probably. As it was, this was an extremely "toxic" experience in terms of what it did to his digestive system--and the olfactory sense of the poor souls (us) who were sleeping in the same room with him.
In an effort to curb this bad behavior once and for all, I decided to get tough. I decided to set a booby trap for one or both of the culprits and try to nip this unacceptable habit in the bud. I can say that it worked 100%---so far. The proof will be whether it works in all situations and on all occasions in the future, but at least we have a basis on which to build.
My method for stopping counter surfing:
- Get small empty water bottle or pop bottle and fill it one-third of the way with pennies.
- Tie a string around the neck of the bottle.
- Prepare a treat--I used a piece of bread since mine love loaves of bread--I cut off a portion and smeared some canned dog food on it just to enhance the treat.
- I then tied the other end of my string around the treat and set it on the counter.
- Watch the short video for the result!
This method worked very well for Gabby after only one try. I have had a dog cookie tied to the bottle of pennies and have moved it all over the kitchen and dining room for a week. She hasn't gone near it. I also have not seen her jump up on the counter since or even act like she was thinking about it.
The funniest added benefit is that Griffin somehow figured out that the bread on a string was just "too obvious." Though he was sorely tempted, as evidenced by the fact that he did laps around the counter island all day long, he never went for the bread. He even gave it a huge amount of space as he passed by it, turning to see if it was following him apparently--and eventually just stayed out of the kitchen. He seemed to sense that there was something ominous in the bottle of pennies.
Even funnier was that he was lying in the dining room when Gabby grabbed the bread and when the bottle of pennies crashed to the floor, he went running to the bedroom.
Will this work in the long term to break their counter cruising habit? Time will tell but at least for now, it seems to have worked.
Booby Trap Method for Counter Surfers
Other Ways to Break the Counter Cruising Habit
If you watch the clicker video below, the trainer gives great detail and this method seems to be extremely effective. With malamutes, I had success with clicker training which then evaporated.
My dogs became quickly conditioned to the treating portion and if there was no treat, there was no response. I tend to think this is because they are highly intelligent dogs who figure things out quickly. Once they do, it almost becomes a game to get them to do what they need to do--unless you keep changing it up.
Another method to train your malamute to stop jumping on counters is to attach him or her to a long lead and give them free reign within striking distance of something on the counter or even a low table.
As the dog approaches the tempting object, a sharp reprimand with the leash is given alone or with a sharp warning sound to discourage them from this behavior. Repeated over time, this can be an effective way of breaking the habit.
However, the most important fact is that you want the dog to remember this behavior when someone is not present. That's the tricky part.
In my case, I resorted to the booby trap idea because I had tried other methods and they were not always successful. In our case, the introduction of other people at times also seemed to encourage our dogs to try to steal food!
Another point to be made is that some dogs are more food motivated than others--Griffin seems to be perpetually interested in food no matter how much he eats. For many reasons, deconditioning is my goal with my younger ones since they seem to share a passion for taking what isn't theirs!
Remember though that no one method is the only way to go--do what works best for you and your dog.
Also keep in mind that with a malamute, the training is lifelong. It's never over and you have to always be thinking on your toes if you want to stay ahead of these gentle giants.