Food 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
The 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”
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”
- 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
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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,