Dogs are opportunistic creatures and will do what works for them. There are several behaviors that are self rewarding meaning just the act of the behaviors are intrinsically rewarding to the dogs. Examples of self rewarding behaviors are barking, jumping, pulling on lead , digging and counter surfing. Simply engaging in the behavior is rewarding for the dog.
PREVENTION is the key!
Keep counters clear of food and other items your dog may find interesting or tempting. If a dog jumps on the counter and is rewarded with a piece of paper, a banana, or even better, something really stinky and yummy like cheese, then your dog has been rewarded big time for jumping on the counter and the behavior will continue and grow stronger and stronger. Having your dog crated while in the kitchen when you are preparing food etc. will prevent the dog from having the opportunity to jump on the counter or hunt for food you may accidentally drop or spill. If you do not have a crate in your kitchen area then try using a baby gate or other device to physically block you r dog from being in the kitch en while you are working with food. Observe your dog. Observation is a big part of the prevention strategy. Observe and watch your dog so you can interrupt him if you see him going into the kitchen and ready to jump or scan the counters. Interrupt, re-direct and have your dog do a behavior incompatible with counter surfing such as It’s Yer Choice, Nose Touches, Down with release etc. We want to PREVENT the dog from having the opportunity to self reward by engaging in the counter surfing behavior. A dog who never gets rewarded by jumping on a counter will find that activity does not work for him!
EXERCISE AND MENTAL STIMULATION
Dogs who are well exercised and who have enough mental stimulation during the day are less likely to engage in behaviors we humans find unwanted. Scavenging for food is not a bad dog behavior, it is simply dog behavior. Dogs survived for 45,000 years by scavenging the humans’ food dumps! Play games with your dog such as scavenger hunt outside. You can feed your dog an entire meal this way. Play crate games, doggie ping pong or it’s yer choice just prior to your going into the kitchen to prepare food. Have your dog physically and mentally ready for a nap!
TRAINING AN INCOMPATIBLE (with counter surfing) BEHAVIOR
Teaching your dog a down with release or go to your mat while you are involved in food preparation is a way to teach your dog that it is much better for him , and he will have more opportunities for reinforcement, to lie nicely on his mat while you are preparing or handling food. This requires a high rate of reinforcement meaning you will be tossing lots of good treats onto the dog’s mat very often while he is in the down.
As with any behaviors that have been rewarded, when the reward is removed there will be a brief period of time where efforts to make work what has always worked before, become more intense. This is called extinction burst. This is true of all rewarded behaviors including those that are self rewarding such as jumping, barking, pulling on lead and counter surfing. Work through this period and remember it is part of the sequence in fully extinguishing a behavior.
Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants), Professional Member APDT, (Association of Pet Dog Trainers), AKC Canine Good Citizenship Evaluator, Animal Behavioral College Mentor