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Reining in Dogs Behavior from Scavenging Around the House: Managing the sport of counter-surfing

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Dear Poncho,

Now that I’m getting to be a taller doggie, I have no problem grazing the kitchen counters. I find all sorts of neat stuff and I sneak it out of the kitchen. Sometimes I can run out my dog door with the loot. I like sponges, pepper jack cheese, anything in plastic bags and cotton socks. I think it’s a great treat and adventure to do this, but my humans yell at me and shut me in the mudroom and if they can get it, they take away my loot. I suppose I should stop myself from this nasty behavior, but I just can’t! Do you have any ideas? — Baraboo

Dear Baraboo,

DUDE! You are so lucky! I love “counter-surfing”! In the five-plus years I’ve lived with my mom and dad, I’ve only been “surfing” three times…it took that many episodes for my humans to learn, but they finally did … bummer for me. Anyway, this is what their plan was. I’d suggest you follow the course of action … you’ll benefit in the long run, trust me.

  • Let’s first talk about what we are: we’re dogs, right??? Our doggy DNA says for us to scavenge, hunt, sniff, explore … and, for goodness sake, you’re part retriever so you’re going to want to put things in your mouth and retrieve things! That’s what you were born to do! Ugh … I think humans forget about our doggy traits sometimes … so first remind them of that.
  • Management: “Lead us not into temptation.” If they don’t want you to get to something, then put it away! After all, if it’s within reach, and appears interesting, you’re going to investigate! Ask them to help prevent impulsive behaviors — don’t leave things out, especially if they’re not going to help teach you or keep an eye on you. And if they do, ask them to take responsibility for it.
  • As for the chase game — man, I love it! You totally have them trained! You grab something, they chase you … cool, I’ll have to remember that one. OK, so since you’ve learned they don’t really like that game, you might want to try the one my mom and dad use with me.

They play the “exchange game.” They ask me, “may I have that?” I give it to them, they give me a little treat. It’s a really cool game. And, it just so happens, whatever they “trade” is always better than what I have in my mouth! Score!

As for the “time out” you’re getting in the mud room, well, I know it’s probably not fun … but sometimes humans forget that our hard wiring is telling us to hunt and guard items. So a punishing “time out” isn’t always effective. If you’ve had a few timeouts already, and it still isn’t working, they should check their timing — they need to remember us dogs need to be rewarded or punished immediately for it to make sense. I suggest your humans concentrate more on what they want, versus spending time chasing you around screaming willie-nillie.

Besides the management and exchange game, you can also ask them to provide plenty of “legal” outlets for you to play with and carry around … and, when you make the better choice, they can reward you with a yummy treat. This way, you’ll want to do that more often.

Finally, have them teach you how to “drop.” You know, they say “drop” and you let go of the item, and they give you a treat … pretty simple. Hey, you know how to pick things up with your mouth, it’s just the same thing but backward.

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