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Home Training and BehaviorBehavioral Issues Stop Counter-Surfing & Garbage Raiding: Impulse Control Training for Dogs

Stop Counter-Surfing & Garbage Raiding: Impulse Control Training for Dogs

by Kimberley Lehman
Kimberley Lehman

I’ve been there, standing in the aftermath of what looks like a mini tornado, but it’s just my dog’s latest adventure in counter-surfing and garbage raiding.

It’s not just about the mess; it’s the potential dangers lurking in those forbidden zones. That’s why I decided it was high time to tackle this issue head-on.

Training my furry friend to steer clear of the kitchen counter and trash can seemed daunting at first. But with patience, consistency, and the right strategies, I’ve seen significant progress. Let me share how we turned those counter-surfing escapades and garbage raids into a thing of the past.

Understanding the Behavior

Before diving into the specifics, it’s crucial to get why our furry friends indulge in these no-no activities. At first, my frustration was through the roof—why can’t they just listen? But after a bit of research and observation, light bulbs went off. Dogs, by their very nature, are scavengers. This instinct, though not always convenient for us, is perfectly normal for them.

Think about it; in the wild, dogs would often scavenge for food, which means that our kitchen counters and garbage cans are like treasure troves to them. It’s not just about being naughty—they’re simply following their instinct to scrounge up whatever food they can find.

On top of the scavenging instinct, there are a few other reasons why dogs might engage in counter-surfing and garbage raiding:

  • Boredom: Just like us, dogs get bored. If they’re not given enough stimulation, they’ll find their own entertainment, even if it’s at the expense of our kitchen.
  • Hunger: Sometimes, it’s as simple as your dog being hungry. If their diet isn’t satisfying them, they might start looking for extra snacks on the counter or in the trash.
  • Attention-seeking: Dogs are clever. They quickly learn that certain actions will garner your attention, even if it’s negative. For some dogs, any attention is good attention.
  • Opportunism: Never underestimate a dog’s ability to take advantage of an unattended steak on the counter. They live in the moment, and if an opportunity presents itself, they’ll take it.

So, how do we deal with this behavior? It’s not about punishment—remember, to them, scavenging isn’t bad, it’s instinctual. Instead, we focus on redirection and offering positive alternatives. By understanding the root causes of their behaviors, we can begin to address the issue in a way that respects their natural instincts while keeping our kitchens safe.

To make strides in curbing this behavior, I implemented a series of strategies that turned the tide in my favor. It wasn’t overnight, but with consistency and patience, I saw remarkable improvements. Like reconstructing the kitchen dynamics, one has to be smart and strategic—turning their natural instincts into advantages, making the inaccessible, well, inaccessible, and replacing the undesirable with desirable activities and rewards that keep their paws off our counters and out of the trash.

Risks of Counter-Surfing and Garbage Raiding

When I first encountered my pup’s counter-surfing antics, I laughed it off as a harmless mischief. But soon, I realized there were serious risks involved. Here’s what I found out:

  • Physical Injuries: Scavenging for scraps isn’t just messy; it’s potentially harmful. My dog once knocked over a knife. Luckily, no harm done, but it was a wake-up call. Jumping up or stretching too far can also lead to strains or falls.
  • Unhealthy Ingestions: The allure of the trash can is strong for our furry friends. But, it’s filled with hazards. From bones that can splinter and cause internal damage to toxic foods like chocolate or xylitol, the dangers are real. Even seemingly harmless items like used foil or cling wrap can lead to obstructions in their digestive tract.
  • Poisoning Risks: Cleaning supplies or medications left on counters are within reach during a counter-surf. A moment’s curiosity could lead to poisoning. It’s not just about keeping food out of reach but ensuring potentially toxic substances are securely stored away.

I needed a plan to mitigate these risks. My first step was to assess my kitchen from a dog’s eye view. What’s within reach? What smells irresistible? This perspective helped me identify the trouble spots.

  • Secured trash cans with locking lids and placed them in inaccessible areas.
  • Ensured all food items, especially risky ones like chocolate, were stored in cabinets or the fridge.
  • Made a habit of keeping cleaning agents and medications in high shelves or locked drawers.

The message I’m getting across is clear: While it may seem cute or just a bit naughty when our dogs explore counters and trash cans, the stakes are much higher than a mere mess to clean up. The risks range from minor injuries to severe health emergencies. It’s not just about discipline but safety and prevention. Redirecting their attention and ensuring our homes are pet-proof are crucial steps in keeping our beloved dogs safe.

Establishing Clear Boundaries

When it comes to teaching our furry friends about the do’s and don’ts of the kitchen and garbage, setting clear boundaries is key. I’ve learned that consistency and clarity are my best allies. Let’s jump into some ways to communicate these boundaries effectively.

First off, verbal commands play a huge role. Dogs are eager to please but they need to understand what we’re asking. Training should start with simple, consistent commands like “No” or “Leave it.” I’ve found that rewards work wonders here, providing a treat or affection when they follow commands reinforces good behavior.

Here’s where things get a bit more hands-on:

  • Physical barriers: Sometimes, a little physical prevention goes a long way. Gates or pens to block off certain areas can be a game-changer.
  • Counter measures: Keeping counters and tables clear of food or anything that might tempt our dogs ensures they won’t find rewards for their misadventures.

Onto something that requires a bit of our cunning – making the counter and trash less appealing. One trick I’ve tried is placing double-sided tape or aluminum foil on surfaces. Dogs dislike the texture and this often discourages them from jumping up.

Training sessions are also invaluable. They’re not just for tricks or obedience; they teach impulse control. Short, consistent training sessions that reinforce staying off counters and out of the trash can make a big difference. It’s all about patience and positive reinforcement.

  • Immediate rewards for obedience: Quick rewards help them make the connection between good behavior and their tasty treat or affection.

And I can’t stress this enough: monitoring and supervision are crucial, especially in the early stages of training. Sure, it might seem a bit tiring to keep such a close eye on them, but this vigilance pays off. Every time I catch my dog in the act and correct the behavior, I’m reinforcing those boundaries.

Remember, it’s not just about teaching them what not to do; it’s also guiding them toward what they should do. Offering suitable alternatives, like their toys or chew treats, redirects their attention and energy away from forbidden areas.

Incorporating these strategies has greatly helped in maintaining a safer, more harmonious home for both my dogs and me. They’ve learned where their boundaries lie, and I’ve learned a bit more about patience and the joys of dog training.

Positive Reinforcement Training Techniques

When it comes to training your furry friend to stop counter-surfing and garbage raiding, positive reinforcement isn’t just the best method; it’s essential. It’s all about rewarding good behavior rather than punishing the bad. I’ve found this approach not only effective but also a joy, strengthening the bond between me and my dog.

Here’s how I make it work:

  • Immediate Rewards: The key here is timing. The moment my dog follows a command or shows any behavior I want to encourage, I reward him right away. This could be with a treat, a belly rub, or a cheerful “Good boy!”
  • Consistency is King: I always use the same commands for the behaviors I’m training. This avoids confusion and helps my dog learn faster.
  • Variety of Rewards: Dogs, much like us, love surprises. I mix up the rewards to keep things exciting. Sometimes it’s a favorite treat; other times, it could be a new toy or extra playtime.
  • Ignoring the Bad: Instead of scolding my dog for misbehaving, I ignore the behavior. This teaches him that good actions get attention and bad ones don’t.
  • Patience Packs a Punch: Training is a marathon, not a sprint. I’m patient and keep training sessions short but sweet, about 5-10 minutes. This keeps my dog engaged and doesn’t overload him.

To ensure success, I also integrate specific training sessions focused on impulse control. We work on “leave it” and “wait” commands, which are particularly useful. They teach my dog to pause and look to me for direction rather than acting on every impulse. Here’s a brief rundown of what those sessions might entail:

  • Leave It: This command is a lifesaver. I start with a treat in my hand, say “leave it,” and close my fist. If my dog backs off, he gets a different treat as a reward. Gradually, I increase the difficulty by leaving the treat uncovered and then moving it to the floor.
  • Wait: This teaches my dog patience and control. Before going out the door, eating, or playing, I ask him to “wait.” The moment he calmly does, he gets the go-ahead or a treat. This command is especially handy to prevent dashing out the door or jumping on the counters.

Incorporating these techniques into our daily routine has worked wonders.

Consistency is Key

I’ve learned through trial and error—not to mention a few lost steaks—that training my furry friend to keep off the counters and out of the trash requires more than just a stern voice and hopeful thinking. It’s about Consistency. Let me jump into why sticking to your guns, so to speak, is crucial in curbing those pesky counter-surfing and garbage raiding habits.

First off, every dog, from the tiniest Chihuahua to the mightiest Mastiff, thrives on routine. They love knowing what’s what. This means that every time Fido even thinks about eyeing that leftover pizza on the counter or that day-old chicken in the trash, the same rules must apply. No ifs, ands, or buts. Here’s what I’ve found works best:

  • Immediate Correction: The moment you see them inching toward that no-go zone, it’s time for a firm, gentle reminder.
  • Same Commands: Whether it’s a stern “No”, a “Leave it”, or any other command, stick to it. Mixing instructions only leads to confusion and a guilty dog with a belly full of forbidden snacks.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Follow up with plenty of praise or a treat when they obey. This doesn’t mean showering them with goodies every time, but a kind word or a pat goes a long way.

You might be thinking, “But I’m only human, and I forget sometimes.” That’s perfectly okay. The beauty of dogs is their forgiving nature. But, for their sake (and your sanity), strive for consistency. Set reminders if you have to, or even post notes around the house as cues for yourself. Incorporating these habits into your daily routine not only makes training sessions more effective but also strengthens the bond between you and your dog.

It’s also worth mentioning the role of Impulse Control Training here. Teaching commands like “wait” or “stay” can be a game-changer. Not only does it reinforce patience in your dog, but it also gives them a sense of achievement when they successfully resist temptation. Plus, let’s be honest, it’s quite amusing to watch them try so hard to be good when all they want is that juicy piece of steak they just spotted.


Training our furry friends to stay away from counters and garbage isn’t just about keeping our homes tidy; it’s about creating a safer environment for them and strengthening our bond. Remember, patience and consistency are key. Every dog has its pace, so let’s not forget to celebrate the small victories along the way. By incorporating these techniques into our daily routines and focusing on impulse control, we’re not just teaching them to resist temptation; we’re also building a deeper mutual respect. Here’s to happier, healthier homes for us and our four-legged companions!


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