How to Stop Your Dog from Stealing Food

Many or most dogs will nab edibles when our backs are turned. Learn how to prevent or stop them.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
Episode #057
Dog stealing food

Sarah’s right that even looking at empty counter space is rewarding--but at least it’s much less rewarding than actually finding something to eat. Every single time your dog gets lucky on your kitchen counters, he becomes likelier to try again. There was a cheesecake once! There might be another someday. If your dog’s experiments in vertical grazing never work out for him, he’ll try them less often.

By the way, I choose the example of cheesecake for a reason--our counters and tables make such attractive foraging sites because they offer huge potential bonanzas. When you’re frustrated with your dog’s counter surfing, bear in mind the California Gold Rush.

Punishment Is a Waste of Time

As for training, the old-school answer to counter surfing is the booby trap--the rat trap or penny can array that Sarah mentioned. A high-tech version, also known as the same-old, same-old wearing a new dress, is an indoor shock fence with a perimeter around the kitchen and dining area. Low tech, high tech, don’t waste your time. Plenty of dogs are unimpressed by booby traps, and supposing your dog is put off by yours, are you really going to set it up every single time you leave the kitchen for the rest of your dog’s life? Of course you’re not. And eventually every dog but the most timid is going to take a chance that the world won’t end if she jumps up. Besides, when you’re cooking, you yourself will need that counter space.

As for that most timid dog, the one who’s scared off counters forever by the rattling cans, you run the risk that clattering metal will also become scary forever. How fun for both of you when you drop your keys or take out empty cans for recycling. Shock systems cost big bucks, and even fans of these devices admit that just setting them up and turning on the juice is inhumane. Dogs need to be taught to heed the warning tone and avoid the shock. Finally, no punishment in the world can teach your dog what you do want. Spend your time on that instead, then pass Go and collect $200.

Teach Your Dog to Lie Down Instead of Stealing Food

Convince your dog that she can forage successfully by lying down.

So, what would you like your dog to do when there’s food around? I like a relaxed, out-of-the-way down. The key is to remember that counter surfing is foraging--your dog wants some of whatever smells so good. Therefore you, you brainy primate, must convince your dog that she can forage successfully by lying down. Here’s how.

I’m going to assume that your dog lies down on cue and that you’ve taught her a little bit of a down-stay, so you can walk around for 30 seconds or so without her getting up again. If not, first check out one of the training guides listed in the Resources section below and teach her that.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).

The Quick and Dirty Tips Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.