Tips to Stop Your Dog From Stealing Food

Have you ever turned around just in time to see your dog devouring the last bite of a sandwich he swiped from the counter or table? Busted! Some dogs are extremely skilled in counter surfing — a trainer’s term for when a dog steals food off counters and tables — while others do it only when their owners aren’t looking. And some will grab food even when their owners are standing right there watching them.

If your dog is an inveterate counter surfer, your first step is to make sure he is getting enough to eat and that his food stealing isn't related to any underlying medical issue. Don't just assume that your dog's food stealing is a behavioral issue – visit with your veterinarian to rule out anything health related. Once your dog has a clean bill of health, you can focus on managing his scavenging.

Scavenging is a behavior that’s deeply ingrained in dogs. It is also self-reinforcing, since it provides its own enjoyable reward: your lunch. That can make counter surfing a difficult habit to break, but with proper preventive measures, you can stop your dog from stealing food.

How to Stop Counter Surfing

Dog at Counter


Don’t Leave Food Unattended

Your dog is less likely to grab food off the counter when you’re next to it, most likely because he considers the food to be in your possession, similar to the way he might behave if another dog were guarding or hovering over a bone. But if you leave food lying around, your dog may consider it fair game. And since dogs are scavengers, they’ll likely seize the chance to grab food that’s conveniently located on a counter or coffee table. Some dogs don’t understand their food is supposed to come from a food bowl or puzzle — they’ll take any opportunity they can to dine.

Punishing Dog


Don’t Punish Your Dog

Reprimanding your dog won’t prevent future counter surfing, particularly since punishment is often given too long after the fact for the dog to connect the punishment with the food stealing. Aversive training with booby traps, such as cans that fall, an alarm that goes off or even a motion-activated sprinkler, often creates an anxious dog and hinders the human-animal bond. And the occasional payoff of getting food will push many dogs to try again, even if they get in trouble.

Dog Baby Gate


Focus on Prevention

Use baby gates or fencing to keep your dog in parts of your home that are away from the kitchen or dining areas. When food is left unattended, involve the entire family in keeping messes cleaned up or containing the dog.

Dog looking at snacks


Try Training

If your dog steals food in your presence, teach the “leave it” cue to stop him from grabbing food. In my dog training classes, we prepare dogs for real-life situations by teaching them to leave unattended food or food dropped on the floor with the “leave it” command while the owner is present.

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