Curbing That Work Surface Stealing Dog
With a five-month-old Otterhound puppy here at FourFriends this is a hot topic. So how do you address the matter of stealing food from work surfaces or tables?
Many dogs are food-motivated opportunistic scavengers. It’s a potentially dangerous one that can result in injury or poisoning. We have lost count in the FourFriends office of how many times food has gone missing off desks or the fridge.
Work surface or table surfing is the term many dog trainers use to describe a specific food stealing behavior. That being stealing food from work surfaces and tables. Small dogs are renowned for jumping onto work surfaces with all four paws to enjoy a quick snack. Large dogs, just like Jenna Otterhound need to use only their front paws to steal a snack.
Food seeking is usually a fairly common behaviour and, in some cases, may be second nature to certain breeds of dog. Making scavenging part of your dog’s normal daily behavior. Although food seeking can be related to an underlying health issue such as diabetes or poor-quality pet foods, dogs who steal have also learned that kitchen work surfaces, dining room tables and coffee tables are often easily accessible sources of tasty treats. And because dogs are natural scavengers, they tend to seize any opportunity to eat.
This behavior is self reinforcing, in other words, it has its own rewards. If your dog finds food within easy reach only once or twice, they will continue to look for it.
For that reason, stealing from work surfaces can be a difficult habit for dog owners to eliminate.
What you can do to reduce table stealing?
The easiest thing to reduce and possibly prevent table stealing is to manage your home so that your dog doesn’t have access to food on the kitchen work surface. The objective is to arrange the kitchen and work surfaces so that your dog doesn’t have the opportunity for finding food and reinforcement, this only encourages future scavenging:
- Don’t keep food on your work surfaces or tables. Food kept, or left unattended, on kitchen work surfaces is simply too tempting and too reinforcing. If there’s no food, there’s no reward to be had. Even if you think your dog can’t reach the chocolate cake or fruit bowl at the back of the table, you may be mistaken and arrive home to find your dog has enjoyed it and left a little present for you to clean up.
- Clean any spills and crumbs thoroughly after food preparation. Licking up a tasty sauce or scrap of food can be rewarding and reinforcing.
- Remove your dog into another room or into their crate during cooking. Meal preparation means food is spread on the work surface, making it easy for your dog to sneak a bite when you’re not looking. Try using a baby gate to keep your dog out of the kitchen.
- Train your dog with a clicker to leave it. These verbal commands are valuable not only for managing that stealing dog but for many other situations. Consistency is the most important factor. Reprimanding or punishing your dog for behaving in a normal-for-them manner won’t prevent future episodes of stealing. Using booby traps to deter that stealing dog could make them anxious or fearful while damaging the bond between you and your dog. Preventing access to unattended food in the first place and training your dog to obey key commands, however, can effectively thwart a scavenging dog.
Thank you to our FrourFriends ambassador Kate Nicholas for her training advise. Poor Jenna Otterhound isn’t going to be so lucky in future weeks.