by Marina Somma
Many dogs are motivated by food (especially the forbidden human kind), so it's completely normal for your pup to pay a little extra attention when they see you sit down at the dinner table. If your dog is digging through the trash for tasty snacks or stealing food from the kitchen counter, you might have a more serious behavioral problem on your hands. But fear not! Follow these quick tips, and you can easily learn how to stop a dog from jumping on the counter and stealing your food.
Key Factor: Why?
The first step you need to take is to stop asking “how” and start asking “why.” Why did your dog begin stealing food or digging through the garbage in the first place? Though many potential factors could have gone into the situation, most dogs begin stealing food because they’re bored and simply looking for something to keep them occupied.
About Your Dog’s Ancestry
To understand more about this, you need to know a little more about your dog’s ancestry. Research shows us that your dog isn’t just a wolf puppy that humans domesticated. Rather, our dogs’ ancestors evolved into scavenging predators before we began domesticating them.
The reason why this relates to your dog now is pretty simple. Your dog’s ancestors were not hunting large game like wolves but searching through human garbage for scraps and small prey to hunt. Your dog was literally born to go through your garbage!
Mentally Stimulating Your Dog
Because dogs feel the constant need to scavenge and search for food, it’s our responsibility to keep their brains stimulated in other ways. If you don’t keep them mentally stimulated, that’s when you begin to see your dog stealing food and rummaging through the trash bin.
This isn’t simply hearsay. We know that providing enriching and mentally stimulating objects and activities for animals makes their lives better. Peer-reviewed research has shown that this is true for both cattle and shelter dogs.
The best way to ensure your dog gets enough mental stimulation is to provide a combination of hands-on and hands-off activities. Some hands-on activities include training using positive reinforcement or playing structured games like fetch or tug. Some hands-off exercises include chews like bully sticks or treat-dispensing puzzles. Particularly restless dogs might also benefit from the use of CBD tinctures or chews, which may help them maintain a normal emotional balance.
The Last Step: Preventing the Problem
Once you increase your dog’s mental stimulation, they’re less likely to go looking for trouble. However, that doesn’t mean the damage hasn’t already been done. Once your dog has found food in the garbage or on the counter, they ‘ll continue to look there for other fun things.
The only way to fully eradicate this problem behavior is to make sure your dog can’t steal food in the first place. Under absolutely no circumstances should you leave anything edible within reach of your dog. A single find can set your training back for weeks. You should also keep your garbage somewhere where your dog can’t reach it.
Putting the Pieces Together
To see success, you must combine both practices at the same time and stay on top of them. Provide more mental stimulation, and keep providing it for your dog. While you do that, ensure that there’s absolutely nothing that your dog can get to and steal.
Stick to your guns for at least a month or two, depending on how severe your dog’s behavior was. After a long enough period of time, two things will begin to happen: Your dog will become more mentally satisfied and less likely to look for trouble. Additionally, because they haven’t found anything, they stop using the counter or garbage can as a means to find something interesting or yummy.
As usual, it simply takes time and patience to succeed with your dog. If you still need additional help, take a look at our article How to Find the Right Dog Trainer.
Marina graduated from Monmouth University with a B.A. in psychology and a B.S. in marine and environmental biology and Policy. She also holds CPDT-KA dog training certification with the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. She has over eight years of experience in zoological and domestic animal care and has worked at various facilities all around the country. Marina and her husband, Vincent, own, operate and manage an animal behavior/training and media company based out of Central Florida called petsETC.