How Can We Stop Our Dog From Stealing Food?

Replace the Behavior

In addition to managing your dog’s environment to help prevent food stealing, it’s important to find ways to channel his energy into other outlets. Instead of focusing on reprimanding your dog for counter surfing, find ways to provide situations where he can safely forage for his food. Food puzzles, productive chews and structured “find it” games engage his drive to scavenge and can be used specifically at times that he would otherwise be drawn to the counter, like when you are preparing dinner. Outdoor exercise, scenting games and trick training offer other ways to expend the physical and mental energy your dog might channel into stealing your dinner.

Training specific alternative behaviors can also help to minimize counter surfing and food stealing. Teach your dog to go to his spot when you are preparing food or eating a meal. Make his designated area — a mat or dog bed — somewhere out of the kitchen or dining room, away from temptation. Once he masters the command, increase the length of time you ask him to stay in his spot and reward him with a long-lasting food puzzle.

Your dog should also be taught to "leave it,” which can be used to ask him to willingly move away from enticing items, like food he is honing in on. Start the training with low-value items that can easily be moved out of reach.Once your dog learns to follow the command, progressively increase difficulty and include unattended food on the counter or floor.

"Drop it” is another essential behavior to teach a dog who is inclined to steal food. In the event that he gets his teeth into something you’d rather he not have, like a bone or corn cob, “drop it” can truly be a lifesaving command.

Finally, some pet owners swear by scare tactics like booby-trapping counters with cans or pans set to fall when the dog tries to jump up or remote deterrents like air horns that can be used to startle a dog in the act of stealing food. In my experience, these types of measures are ineffective in most cases: Some dogs will endure the punishment if it means they can still access the desired food. At the same time, the dog learns that the kitchen is a scary place — not that the food is off limits. This can cause your dog to be anxious and afraid, rather than teaching him to change his behavior. In my opinion, management and training are a much better approach to ending food stealing.

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