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Counter Surfing Dogs: The Unfortunate Reality of Keeping Dogs off the Counter | Pupford

November 7th, 2023

Filed under Podcasts

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A counter surfing dog can be extremely frustrating and dangerous. And while there are some things you can do to reduce counter surfing and keep your dog off the counter, we have to talk about the unfortunate reality of this behavior.

Prevention is the #1 way to stop counter surfing. But more on that later!

Plus, we will break down why dogs counter surf. Understanding the why of this behavior is important to know how to stop it!

In this article, we will cover the following:

  • Why dogs counter surf
  • How to stop counter surfing when you’re home
  • How to stop counter surfing when you’re NOT home

Let’s get to it 👇


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Before the article continues, take your quick 1-question survey!

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Dogs are opportunistic animals. If they approach a situation and believe there may be a reward for them, they’ll explore further.

If there is food, they’ll likely try to eat it.

If there is an open door, they’ll likely go outside.

If there is a moving object, they’ll likely chase it.

Dogs do what works best for them to get more rewards. And in many cases, those decisions go against what we, as humans, want from our pups!

And in the case of counter surfing, if there is food on your counter your dog will likely go for it.

Dogs, like most animals, need food as a basic necessity. So with that in mind… Why wouldn’t your dog try to get food off of the counter?!

Simply put, dogs counter surf because they want the reward of food that’s up there.

Here are a few other factors that can contribute to counter surfing.

  • Your dog is bored and looking for something to entertain them
  • Your dog is actually hungry and might need a full meal
  • Your dog hasn’t yet been trained that counters are off-limits

So now that we know why dogs counter surf, let’s discuss how to stop it (or at least reduce it).

Related Reading: 20 Foods Dogs Can and Can't Eat


how to stop counter surfing when youre home

When you are home, counter surfing can be stopped with the right methods.

Here are a few ways to stop counter surfing when you’re home (full explanations below):

  • Teach leave it
  • Teach the off behavior
  • Teach the place behavior

Let’s look at each of those methods in more detail!

🐶 Need extra training help? Sign up for our 100% free (no card required) online dog training class, 30 Day Perfect Pup with Zak George. Start here! 🐶


Teaching leave it helps our dogs learn to choose not to go after all the things they want. It’s at the core of impulse control!

If you’re at home and your dog starts to counter surf, you can tell them to ‘leave it’ to keep them from counter surfing.

If you want to learn all about the leave it behavior then sign up for 30 Day Perfect Pup! It comes with a full video on teaching leave it (and the compound behavior ‘look at me’).

teaching a dog to leave it to stop counter surfing

Here is a quick overview of how to teach leave it to your dog.

  1. Attract your dog’s attention by giving them a treat or two
  2. Show your dog a treat in your hand but close your hand to avoid access
  3. If your dog lunges towards the treat, close your hand and say either “No” or “Ah-Ah” in a stern, but not mean voice
  4. As soon as your dog shows restraint, say “Yes”, give the treat, and praise your dog.
  5. Now that your dog has generalized the action introduce the word “leave it”. Put a treat in your hand and say “leave it”, and then “Yes” as soon as your dog shows restraint.
  6. Up the difficulty by repeating steps 1-5 but instead of holding it in your hand, drop the treat on the ground. Cover the treat with your hand if your dog lunges towards it, then uncover the treat once they have back off and try again. Practice & repeat!

And for counter surfing, you can start to put the enticing treat or piece of meat on the counter while you practice this leave it behavior!

This of course takes a lot of practice, repetition and patience. While your dog may learn to leave a small treat in a short amount of time, things like moving objects and out-of-sight leave it takes a lot of work!


The off behavior is all about boundaries. The behavior is useful for counter surfing, staying off furniture, and can help with jumping.

Check out this video about how to teach your dog boundaries, taught by Zak George!

Teaching your dog to get off when you ask is very beneficial in stopping counter surfing.


The place behavior is one of my favorite cues I’ve ever taught my dogs.

It’s useful for SO many reasons. Here are some ways the place behavior has helped my dogs and our life with them.

  • Less jumping when we come home
  • Less jumping up on guests
  • Less barking at the door
  • Less bolting out the door
  • Not crowding us while we prepare their meals
  • Having a clear place to go when we ask them to get off the furniture
  • More calm and settled behavior while guests over
a dog settling on their place after counter surfing

I LOVE place. And it’s an absolute game changer for stopping counter surfing.

If you catch your dog counter surfing, simply give the place cue and reward when they settle on their place.

Here is a basic overview of teaching the place behavior.

  1. Lure and reward for stepping on⁣⁣ the mat
  2. Lure and reward for sitting on the mat (Bonus Tip: use the “ok” cue to release them off consistently)⁣⁣
  3. Lure and reward for lying down on the mat
  4. Point to bed (with no food in hand) and capture an offered down on the mat
  5. Slowly work on adding duration on the mat - reinforce every few seconds for staying on the mat before releasing them off
  6. Over time, slowly add in more duration, distance, and distractions while your dog is on the mat

For a full breakdown, check out this video from our Youtube channel!

Once your dog has a solid grasp of the place behavior, you can use it to help stop counter surfing! If you catch your dog counter surfing, just give the place cue and reward when they settle!

🐶 Need extra training help? Sign up for our 100% free (no card required) online dog training class, 30 Day Perfect Pup with Zak George. Start here! 🐶


Now is where we get into the unfortunate reality of counter surfing…

You cannot stop counter surfing when you’re NOT home. At least not really.

You won’t be there to say ‘leave it’, or ‘off’, or ‘place’. You won’t be there to redirect. You won’t be there to stop the behavior.

So, is there anything you can do?!


Well, not really at least ⬇️

To stop counter surfing while you’re gone you have two options:

  1. Limit access to the counter
    1. With a crate
    2. With a baby gate
    3. By leaving YOUR dog in a separate room etc.
  2. Don’t leave food on the counter

That is the harsh reality of handling a counter surfing dog.

I think as pup parents we often try to avoid this reality. We think with enough training or impulse control work our dogs will just leave items alone that are left on the counter.

While all of that is important and can help, it’s not going to stop counter surfing when your dog is alone.

Related Reading: How Long Can You Leave a Dog Alone?

I have two Labrador Retrievers. While they almost never counter surf anymore, it does still happen if we are negligent with food on the counters.

We have become meticulous about not leaving food out on the counters unless someone is in the room or nearby.

So when we leave the home, we check that no food is out.

When we go to bed for the night, we check that no food is out.

When we know we’re going to be distracted in another room, we check that no food is out.

That has single-handedly been the most effective way to stop counter surfing in our home!

I’m a huge fan of Reddit. I often find true, honest answers that I can’t find anywhere else. I loved the response on this reddit thread when asked about stopping counter surfing.

how to stop counter surfing according to reddit

And one more I think is spot on!

reddit answer to stopping counter surfing dog

Very accurate responses in my opinion!


a dog about to counter surf in a home for food

Often as pup parents, we look for solutions that just might not be realistic. And with counter surfing, it’s extremely important to be realistic about the reality of the behavior.

Dogs are opportunistic and if left alone around food, they will likely try to eat it!

So, if you want to keep your dog from counter surfing when you’re gone you can either limit access to the area or not leave food out.

When you’re home, you can practice behaviors like leave it, off, and the place cue to help reduce counter surfing!

While the opinion of not being able to stop counter surfing completely may not be “popular”, it’s a reality in almost all cases. And if you disagree with me, I’d love to hear why in the comments!

What has your experience been with counter surfing? Have you successfully been able to completely stop your dog from counter surfing?! Would love to hear all about it in the comments!

🐶 Need extra training help? Sign up for our 100% free (no card required) online dog training class, 30 Day Perfect Pup with Zak George. Start here! 🐶


Looking for more ideas and help? Check out these other dog counter surfing videos!


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