12 Easy Tips to Stop Your Dog from Stealing Food off the Counter

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Is your dog notorious for stealing your food from your kitchen counter, dinner table, or even from your plate? While it can be a nuisance to you, we can bet that your dog doesn’t see any problem with this behavior. After all, it is good food that is within reach!

You should also understand that stealing food is a natural or instinctual behavior for dogs. Food is always scarce in the wild, so the earliest dogs had to scavenge to survive.

Just because stealing food is natural to dogs doesn’t mean that you should accept the behavior. Your dog should learn to leave your food alone considering that certain human foods can be dangerous to dogs.

So, how do you stop this behavior?

Well, there are many strategies that you can leverage but before we highlight them, let’s first understand why a dog may steal your food off the counter or dining table in the first place.

Why your dog steals food

To begin with, stealing food, scavenging, or ‘counter surfing’ is deeply ingrained in most canines’ DNA. As hinted above, their ancestors were wolves that scavenged food from human settlements.  

Secondly, the behavior is rewarding or self-reinforcing to dogs. Dogs who counter surf have learned that kitchen counters and dinner tables are easy sources for yummy foods. And given that dogs are optimists and opportunists, they will keep jumping up your counter to look for food even if they were only lucky once or twice.

Other reasons why your dog is likely to steal your food include:

  • Hunger: Dogs will search for food when they are hungry.
  • Lack of Obedience Training: Your dog may also steal your food simply because you haven’t taught him that the behavior is inappropriate.
  • Boredom: A dog may steal food and engage in other weird behaviors in pursuit of entertainment.
  • Separation Anxiety and Stress: If left alone for long, some dogs may resort to destructive behaviors such as stealing foods or items like socks and shoes which have the scent of their owners. Additionally, if a dog has a strong bond with his owner and doesn’t get as much affection as he used to, he may resort to funny behaviors like stealing to get noticed.
  • Dog’s Personality: If your dog is a glutton, there are high chances that you will catch him stealing your food from time to time because that is what he thinks about most of the time. A dog that was rescued from the streets may also steal food because he is used to such behaviors.
  • Leaving your food uncovered or not setting a boundary between your dog and your kitchen counter may also encourage your dog to steal food.

12 Ways to Stop Your Dog from Stealing Food

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1.Establish a regular feeding schedule

If your dog’s tummy is full, he’s less likely to scavenge for food. So, try to feed your dog at the same time every day so that he can learn when the next meal is coming. By maintaining a regular feeding schedule for your dog, he’s also less likely to feel hungry or engage in food stealing behaviors between meals.

2. Limit Your Dog’s Access To The Food

Arrange your environment (your countertop or dinner) so that your dog doesn’t find an opportunity for finding food (reinforcement). Here are a few tips that you can use:

  • Don’t Put Food On Your Counters: When the dog doesn’t find food every time he jumps up, he won’t get rewarded for counter surfing and will eventually stop.  
  • After you are done with handling food on your kitchen counter or finished eating on your dinner table, clear the counter so that there are no delicious residues for your pooch to lick up. Finding something to lick on your table or counter is just as rewarding as finding food.
  • You can also crate your dog when you are preparing meals. Alternatively, put the dog in another room when you are cooking or put some form of gate on the doorway to restrict access to the kitchen.

3. Teach Your Dog The “Leave It” Command

Teaching your dog the “leave it” command can also help correct his stealing behaviors. For instance, if you catch him trying to counter surf, using the “leave it” command will stop him from eating it. This is particularly vital when he has stolen something that can potentially harm him.

Check this Victoria Stilwell’s video to learn how to teach your dog the ‘leave it’ command:

There are many ways of teaching the “leave it” command, so choose the training method that’s appropriate for your dog. If you had started teaching your dog this command but he’s suddenly stealing food, consider refreshing his skills. If you hadn’t tried it, start by watching the above video or call a local dog trainer for some help.  

Once your dog has mastered the command, you can begin introducing food as the object to be ignored. With your pooch on a leash, you can place food on the counter and tell the dog to ‘leave it’ whenever he tries to reach for the food. Practice with food in different places until your dog understands the command perfectly.

4. Teach Your Dog To Lie Down

Use treats to encourage your dog to lie down when you are preparing food on the kitchen counter or eating at the dinner table.

Here is how you can do it:

  • Before you start preparing food, get your dog to lie down and stay.
  • Reward him by sharing a scrap of food if he does.
  • Do this repeatedly until he learns that lying down and staying brings a treat.
  • Eventually, he will be ready to lie down and stay in a bid to win treats instead of trying to steal food from your counter.

5. Teach Your Dog To ‘Go Or Stay in His Place’

If you see your dog in your kitchen sniffing around, tell him to go to ‘his place’ and reward him with a treat if he obeys. Like the previous ‘lie down and stay’ tip, he will soon realize that he is more likely to get a treat if he listens than trying to sneak food behind your back.

Alternatively, create a “treat area” for the dog such as a comfy rug or his bed. With enough reinforcement, he will automatically head to the treat area when you start preparing food on the kitchen counter because he knows that he will be rewarded.

6. Keep Him Active

Expose your dog to loads of physical and mental stimulation to prevent boredom and to burn the excess energy that he might otherwise use to scavenge. Fun games using suitable toys, long walks on the leash and training are all handy for this purpose.

7. Train  Your Dog To Only Eat From His Bowl

If you train your dog from a tender age that he is only allowed to eat from his bowl, he’ll grow knowing that whatever food is on your dinner table or counter is off limits.

8. Invest in a Dog treat camera

Dog treat cameras provide a seamless way to monitor your dog’s behaviors and reward him as appropriate. Some models feature 2-way audio and alerts (see the best options here), so you can tell your dog to stop whenever you catch him counter surfing or trying to be naughty.

9. Don’t Give In To Your Dog’s Begging Behavior

Throwing your dog food whenever he begs can also encourage food-stealing behavior. Dogs will continue to beg for food and even steal from your counter if it works for them. Discourage the begging behavior using these tips or train him to learn that you eat first before serving him. This will resolve any confusion in his mind and can go a long way in discouraging him from eating any food in sight.

 10. Try Booby Traps Training

Essentially, this method entails training your dog to learn to associate stealing food off the counter with unpleasant consequences. Common boobytrap objects that you can use are falling beer cans, taste aversives, and motion detector alarms among others. Here’s how to carry the training:

  • Tie one end of a dental floss to a piece of meat and the other end to an empty beer can, partially filled with coins.
  • Next, seal the beer can with a tape and put it on your kitchen counter in such a way that the meat is hanging visibly—where the dog can clearly see it.
  • If the dog tries to reach out for the meat, the beer can will fall and noise made by the coins will startle the dog, discouraging him from repeating the behavior.  

Pro Tip: Dog behavior experts believe that this method can increase anxiety in dogs and hinder the human-dog bond. So, it is better to use other less aggressive methods.

11. Discourage Your Dog From Eating On Street Bins

Some dogs tend to steal food at home because they are sued to sniffing trash bags and sticking their noses into the garbage in the street. So, always keep a close watch on your dog and make him understand that scavenging for food anywhere isn’t right. Remember that eating anything from trash bins can be dangerous, especially if there are rotten foods, medications, or glasses inside the bins.

12. Consult your Veterinarian

If your dog cannot stop his behavior even after you have tried the above-mentioned strategies, consider talking to your local vet. Certain health issues and medications can make your dog ravenous. Even worse, if the dog feels that he’s starving, then training isn’t going to change him. Explain to your vet whatever your dog is going through and how you’ve been trying to help him stop the behavior so that he can help you figure out if there could be other underlying issues.

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1. Can I Punish My Dog For Stealing Food?

No. You shouldn’t as he won’t stop the behavior. In most cases, you’ll be giving the punishment too long after the dog has committed the act, so your dog will never connect the punishment with his act of stealing.

Additionally, the occasional reward of getting the food will push many dogs to try their luck again even if it gets them in trouble.

Even worse, your dog will only avoid stealing your food when you are around. So, the dog will only be trying to avoid punishment but won’t learn that the behavior is wrong.

Pro Tip: You should also avoid yelling at your dog whenever you discover that he has stolen your food because he won’t figure out that you are angry. In fact, he might just begin fearing you!

2. How do I stop my dog stealing food from the counter when I am not at home?

Use the following tips:

  • Put any food that your dog might steal away before you leave. Remember to also remove sharp objects or any other item that might harm your dog in case they jump up your kitchen counter or table.
  • Ensure that your trash bin has a tight lid that the dog can’t get into or knock off
  • Try using booby traps to stop your dog from involving in weird behaviors (avoid this method if you have a nervous dog)
  • Use safety gates to restrict your dog’s access to the kitchen

3. How do I stop my dog from stealing from other dogs?

Dogs aren’t good at sharing food. So, the most practical thing to do if one of your dogs is trying to steal food from the other is to have them eat separately. You can feed them tied down on opposite ends of the room, inside their crates, or in different rooms. You can also invest in multi-pet feeders. Here are the best options. Your dog won’t bother others if they are not anywhere near their bowls.

Bottom-line

Hopefully, you now know what you to do when your dog suddenly starts stealing food off your counter. You should note that scavenging is a behavior that’s ingrained in your canine friend’s DNA from thousands of years of evolution, so it is not going to be a simple task to completely erase the behavior. If you leave food lying around your table or counter, any dog is likely to go after it. So, while you strive to change your dog’s emotional state using the above-highlighted strategies, don’t forget to change your behaviors and practices as well.

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Sable M. is a canine chef, professional pet blogger, and proud owner of two male dogs. I have been an animal lover all my life, with dogs holding a special place in my heart. Initially, I created this blog to share recipes, tips, and any relevant information on healthy homemade dog treats. But because of my unrelenting passion to make a difference in the world of dogs, I have expanded the blog’s scope to include the best information and recommendations about everything dog lovers need to know about their canine friends’ health and wellbeing. My mission now is to find the most helpful content on anything related to dogs and share it with fellow hardworking hound lovers. While everything I share is in line with the latest evidence-based veterinarian health guidelines, nothing should be construed as veterinary advice. Please contact your vet in all matters regarding your Fido’s health.