How to stop your dog from stealing food

How to stop your dog from stealing foodFood stealing is something that certainly can make you nervous. Imagine you have just left your kitchen to get something and ooh did I just forget to put the chicken out of reach for the dog? You hurry back to the kitchen to find your dog with is front paws on the counter chewing up your Saturday dinner.

Dogs stealing food is very common and even otherwise obedient and well-raised dog do this. So why does this happen? Why do dogs steal food and what can you do about it?

As annoying as this might be, your dog is not doing this to annoy you and she is not being bad. It is actually pretty natural for a dog to eat whatever food it might get hold off. Dogs evolved as scavengers and many people believe that the ancestors of our modern dogs used to hang around close to human settlements and eat whatever food the humans left around. So when a dog sees some unattended food it eats it as quickly as it can before somebody else does.

In the wild you have to be quick or you will starve.

The fact that dogs now live and are fed by us humans does not really change what has once been “programmed” into their minds so a domestic dog will often act just like a wild one would have done and eat whatever they can get hold off.

Of course there is more to it than just pure instinct. Many dogs just love to eat and the temptation of something really tasty within reach is just too big and they can not resist it even if they wanted to. This love for food is of course very individual and it also varies between different breeds of dogs but generally speaking many dogs love food and will do anything to get it.

Among dog trainers the behavior of stealing food from tables and counters is referred to as “Counter Surfing”

Stopping this behavior is important not just because it is annoying to get your food stolen by your dog but there are also foods which is potentially harmful for dogs.

First step: Prevention

Counter SurfingThe first step you need to take is prevention, that is, your dog should not get the opportunity to steal food. This means that when leaving the kitchen you put all food well away from dog somewhere where he can not reach it. It is important that the kitchen is completely clean of all foods (even crumbs)

If your dog do manage to steal something tasty once then he/she will remember this and will try it again as soon as he/she sees the possibility so by keeping all food well away he/she will eventually get tired of it and stop trying to steal food.

This is sort like when you have a bird feeder and there are plenty of birds around. Then you stop putting bird food in it and eventually the birds will stop coming as they learn that there is no more food to get from it.

Another option is to seal off parts of the house for the dog, for example the kitchen. A baby gate usually works well for this although some big or agile dogs can probably climb over it.

Teaching your dog that the Kitchen is “Off Limits” and that he/she is not allowed in the kitchen at all can work quite well but this is not always practical and if the temptation of something tasty is too big the dog might sneak in and steal something anyway even if he/she knows that the kitchen is forbidden territory.

Second Step: Teach your dog to “leave it”

Some dogs will anything for food

The command “leave it” is very useful in a number of situations and when it comes to food stealing it can be used both before the dog gets hold of something or when it already has it in his mouth. Being able to control your dog using this command puts you in control and it is particularly useful when your dog has gotten hold of something dangerous, such as food which is harmful for dogs or a sharp and potentially harmful tool. Here is a post on how to teach your dog to “Leave It”

Third Step: Tell your dog to go to bed and reward him

If you find your dog sniffing around in the kitchen or anywhere near the food, tell him to go to his bed When he does, reward him with a treat and give him plenty of praise and cuddles.

This way, the dog will understand that by going to bed and patiently waiting he/she will be rewarded by with food. After a while your dog might even go to his/her bed by him/herself as soon he/she smells food. If the dog’s bed is not practical for this purpose you can create a “feeding place” by putting a thick blanket or mattress where your dog can lay down and wait when there is food around.

So keep an eye on the food and reward your dog when he/she gets in his/her bed or “feeding area”

To Summarize

  • Keep the food out of reach or block certain areas of the house with baby gates or other obstacles.
  • Make sure to clean the kitchen from all food scraps, crumbs etc.
  • Teach your dog to “Leave it”
  • If possible, teach your dog that the kitchen is “Off Limits”
  • When there is food around, make your dog go to his/her bed (or other comfortable place made for this purpose) reward him/her with a treat and plenty of praise and caresses.

I hope that you found these tips and tricks useful and that it will help you in getting your dog to stop stealing food. These little tricks have proved useful for a lot of people but when it comes to food there is no sure 100% remedy to this problem.

Any dog, no matter of how well-trained and well-behaved it is can fall for the temptation of steal food if given the opportunity. When you think of it, it goes for us humans as well, sometimes it is soo easy to fall for a temptation even we know we shouldn’t

If you would like to learn more about how to stop your dog from stealing food and other issues related to dog training I suggest you take a look at the Online Dog Trainer, an online dog training site where you watch videos to learn dog training and with full support of a professional dog trainer. Here you can sign up for a free dog training video course or can you try the complete training system for 3 days for only one dollar.

If you would like to learn more about this program, you will find my full review here: The Online Dog Trainer Review.

If you have any questions, comments or tips on how to get your dog to stop stealing food, please leave them below.

All the best,

Jojo

Comments 19

  • Thank you for this great article. Sometimes it’s not good when the dog takes the human food because the human food might not be good for them oh, and it might not be good for the people because human food tends to be expensive and you might not have made enough for the dog. 

    So it can be helpful to make sure the dog focuses on eating their own food, although they will probably be attracted to certain kinds of human food. Thank you for trying to help us navigate this situation. Have a great day.

  • The image on the sidebar, which says is your puppy driving you mad, clearly shows that you have the wrong attitude about having a dog to begin with.
    If you are being “driven mad” then it’s not the puppy, it’s your own lack of patience. Teaching people to blame the dog is not really helping the situation, it will just lead to more dogs being mistreated and misunderstood.
    You should instead teach people to become more patient so we don’t have people yelling at their dogs over every little thing. If you are irritable then don’t take it out on your poor dog.

    • The image on the sidebar is an advertisement for a dog training program. Some people feel like there dogs or puppies drive them mad because they do not know how to train them properly and no matter what they do they can not solve the issues they have with their dog or puppy. It is not about blaming the dog. The training I recommend and the training programs I promote is all based on calmness and kindness toward the dog. Sure you have to be firm sometimes but hitting or yelling at any dog or puppy is a big NO. It only makes the dog nervous and sometimes also aggressive and it does not solve any problem. To train a dog, you need to establish yourself as the Packleader (five steps and no violence or dominant behavior needed) then you need to know a few techniques that will make your dog understand what you want from it and of course you need to be patient. This is how to train a dog. I only advocate gentle methods.

      All the best,

      Jojo

  • Wow! lovely post. I fully understand what it means to have a dog with this attitude, I actually I have two who does that. You can imagine, after enjoying an awesome family dinner, you took your plate to the sink. You then turn back to grab the dish of the leftovers — and your dog is already standing on top of the table and chowing down! you be like how did he get so fast? I’ve shouted on them so many times, they stop it for a while and gbam, they return to their former self; If your dog steals food, it can make you so paranoid. You work so hard to keep everything out of their reach. You make sure to push in the chairs, so they can’t climb up. Thanks for the post, It will definitely go a long way.

    Jordan.

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Stealing food can certainly be a tricky issue when it comes to dogs.

      Cheers,

      Jojo

  • Hello; the image with the dog holding the chicken made me laugh. I imagine being hungry, to find that your dog has taken your dinner, just like that! I have three dogs. But they know their place! I trained the first one, the other two came later. Man! They were thieves.

    But I broke them out of stealing. You will have to do some personal training to break the habit of stealing. as they can smell food from a distance. 

    Do you believe a dog has a sense of taste?

    DorcasW

    • Hi,

      I do believe dogs have a sense of taste but what really matters to them is the sense of smell. When you are training a dog and you use treats as rewards, you can often use really small pieces of treats because it is really the smell of it that matters to the dog rather than the taste.

  • I am so happy I landed on your site as I was searching for information that can help me stop dogs stealing food. 

    The first takeaway from your article is that you explained my problem quickly and called it “counter surfing”. That is this annoying behavior of our beloved pet stealing food from tables and counters. 

    I also love the way you explained fully how to solve this problem both by preventive and training programs and your 5-point solution summary. 

    Thanks for the detailed information which I have already shared with friends and family.

  • Excellent article on how to stop dog from stealing food, some times ago I concluded within me that is my responsibilities to keep things away from my dog not to eat it, dogs are animals which training them will surely have impact in the behavior, neatness in the kitchen too is an awesome measure to curb the dog from stealing,I know some dogs are stubborn but with all the points stated it would work to prevent such a situation,thank you for sharing this helpful post.

    • Yes, keeping the kitchen in order and keeping the food away from the dogs sure is important in order to keep them from stealing food.

      Thanks for your input.

  • I have never come across a dog that does not want to steal any food left at their reach. I agree with the first tip, prevention. Though we are not that cautious all the time. We are also trying to talk to our family dog and the only thing she understands is the word ‘come’. I do not know if it is selective  understanding or what. We find it very difficult to command him. But she probably reads the tone of your voice and on occasion, she will obey. Thank you for these great tips. Will be implementing them immediately. Great article!

    • It seems like you have a little bit of work to do with your dog. The first thing you need to do is to establish yourself as the Packleader. Your dog must consider you to be her leader otherwise she is not going to listen to you. Here is a post on how to be the Packleader. When this is done training will be easy because your dog is going to look to you for advice on how to act and what to do. Then you start teaching her the basic commands such as sit, stay, down, heel and leave it. Of course, dogs do not speak our language but there are some simple methods to teach your dog these commands.

      If you help in learning how to train your dog, I suggest you take a good look at the Online Dog Trainer. It is an online dog training site where you learn dog training by watching videos. There is also the support of a professional dog trainer via a forum, skype or e-mail. It is really an easy to use program. If you want to learn about this program you can find a full review of it HERE.

      If I can be of any help, feel free to contact me anytime and I will do what I can to help you.

      All the best and good luck.

      Jojo

  • This is the training tips that I need to learn. My Shiro even goes into the trash to get food! That is an interesting theory about our ancestors and our dogs. Do you think that is an innate behavior? I have been training Shiro to leave it. It got to the point where he would leave it and I would give him tastier treat for that. However, once I walked away (pretended of course) he would attack it right away. Oh well. I will try to use the “go to the bed” method. Thanks for such an informative post!

    Ps. My Shiro is a husky, when I saw that picture of a husky stealing that cookie made my day 🙂

    • Yes the behavior of stealing food is part of a dog’s nature, but  the word “stealing” might not be correct. In the wild, as long as a dog stays by his food it belongs to him/her and he/she defend it from the other dogs when however he/she leaves it then it belongs to whoever gets to it first. So when we leave food unattended it is like it belongs to whoever can get it. Dogs can be taught that they may not take food from anywhere but sometimes the temptation just becomes to big for them.

      I agree with you, the photo of the husky with the biscuit is just hilarious.

      All the best,

      Jojo

  • Thanks for this informational post and great advice. We have a beagle and his sense of smell is so strong he can smell food from a mile away. We’ve always had problems with our dog stealing food and overtime he gets really creative in reaching our food. I like your step three of associating the dog’s bed with rewards from staying away from the food. I think that would be really helpful as we have tried many methods and they didn’t work. 

    • I think rewarding for waiting calmly in bed will work for your Beagle but of course given an opportunity to steal something really tasty he probably will anyway. Better keep the food away from him as well as you can.

      Good Luck!

      Jojo

  • Thanks for this informative post, although i have not experienced my dog stealing food but this is something to look out for, dogs are very unpredictable and can switch characters at any given time, but with this post, at least one get to know how to go about it when the need arises. Much appreciated. 

    • Dogs are all individuals and not all of them are crazy about food. Many dogs however really do love to eat and they is also that instinct of eating what ever they can get hold off, in the wild that is important because you need to get the food before somebody else does,

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