Counter Surfing

Today marks the first week since Buzz moved in with us.  It’s been a great week.  He is acclimating beautifully.  Loving. Cuddly. Attentive. Happy. Training brilliantly.

For the most part, he has been well-behaved, including not begging for people food.  He has been so well-behaved in fact that that when we went out (for a whole hour!) last night, we decided to let him have full reign of the house.  Boy oh boy were we D U M B! We were not out the door 5 minutes and Buzz hit the food lottery.

He went “Counter Surfing” a/k/a “Eating S**T  I Shouldn’t”.

This included an entire box of macaroons, crackers, and one of 4 3/4 handmade gingerbread cookies.  It looked like a bear had been in the kitchen.  After we cleaned up the debris, I turned the corner to find a terrible, nausea inducing site:  in addition to eating the above, he also ate a BAG OF FIBER ONE CEREAL!  F-Bomb!

I thought that our house was going to be rocked by a S**T storm.  Go figure that the dog would have better bowel function than me.  OY.

The approximate amount of Fiber One consumed by Buzz

First thing I did was to reach out to our fantastic Leader Dog Trainer, Stephanie Sherwood, to ask her:  WTF?

She said that “Counter Surfing” is not totally uncommon in dogs and often times, it is the smarter dogs that do this.  He would never, ever dream of doing this when we are present. He has quickly learned some of the basic rules in our home, which has taken time to learn.

While we were together last week (in his first 48 hours) we taught him: no jumping up, no diving for the food bowl, no being pushy….but, he is a master at reading body language and scenarios. We must remember that he doesn’t speak traditional English.  Stephanie suggested that we pretend he is an observer in a foreign land, the foreign land being Brookside.

So, he sees and smells the food on the counter and knows what it means when we gather all of our things to leave the house.  Buzz views this as an opportunity to go SURFING!  Buzz’s idea of a SL!

Stephanie felt pretty confident that he went surfing immediately, as in right after we left the house.

A food motivated animal with nice smelling foods on the counter is right there for the taking and if he just hops up on his hind legs he can easily grab whatever he wants with no one around to distract him from his mission.

The conditions were Bodacious (surfing tranlation: very awesome)!

And guess what? He was completely and totally positively reinforced. In fact he hit the food  jackpot (especially with all of the special holiday treats, he may have even have a sweet tooth!) and because he was able to eat all of it, whatever he wanted, the motivation, Stephanie said, is to do it again is the next time we leave.

Stephanie said that the hard part with this behavior is that we need to catch him in the act to correct this behavior, or, set it up so that he gets negatively reinforced while in the act but doesn’t associate it with a person. The reason that is important is because if he associates the correction with us, he will just know not to do it when we are there, but will do it when we aren’t there.

So the goal is to let him think he is alone, but he gets some form of negative reinforcement while he attempts to surf.

So, how do we accomplish this?

We know Buzz has this food issue. He lacks a bit of restraint when it comes to food (welcome to my world!), so Stephanie suggested to avoid hanging the carrot in front of his face by removing the temptation. She recommended that we remove the opportunity, meaning, if at all possible put the food out of his reach (e.g., in the fridge, in the cupboards, pushed way back so he can’t reach them).   However, this is a dog that can levitate.  The cookies WERE pushed back and I have a sneaking suspicion that he may be able to open cabinets and turn on the microwave.  Just a hunch.

Another option is to get a soda can, empty it and place some coins in it and tape up the top so they stay in. This soda can makes a lot of noise with the coins inside. Stephanie suggested that we can pretend that we are leaving the house or the room, and strategically place ourselves in a spot where he isn’t aware of us, but have the ability to throw the can very near him as soon as he begins to help himself to the cuisine on the counter.

The theory is he doesn’t see us (and therefore associate the negative reinforcement with us). Stephanie says that he just thinks, “Gosh, every time I try to enjoy a nice meal on the counter I get this loud can thrown near me and it is a little scary for me.” So he doesn’t think it is you, he thinks it just happens every time he counter surfs, whether you are there or not making it an unpleasant experience.

OK, thanks to Stephanie, we will try both of these strategies in an effort to keep surfing at the BEACH.

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  1. Susan says

    Oh, black labradors!!! We had three black labs, three yellow and a retriever, at one time or another, while our 3 boys were growing up. They lived outside in Santa Monica in a very big yard but loved to come inside. The black lab that the family has many stories about was the best trained. Never crossed a door stoop without being given a command. But was masterful at laying down right there and over time, his paws would appear closer and then OVER the doorstoop. CREEPING into the next room.

    So, comes the June night when I made a 3 layer German chocolate cake from scratch for my husband's birthday. We set it on the dining room table, took a break from dinner with plans to have the cake a bit later in the evening. Our dear dog, Paco, could NOT resist. He ate the whole thing. So quiet that even though we were in the next room, we had NO idea. And, was he sick! But before he was sick he displayed sorrow, discomfort and regret and guilt on his face. He was masterful at acting.

    The table, now in the dining room of a son, still has the scratch marks from his famous escapade.

  2. diane says

    Happy Happy Birthday! Each one is a BIG SL!!! Remember all of these SLs in the coming weeks, they will help you so much!
    Thank you for the hilarious scenerio of your cruisin' boy, and good luck with that training! :)
    xoxo Diane

  3. Todd Jacobs says

    Our former dog was too smart to let us chuck something at him on the sly, as suggested by the trainer we had then. Another suggested behave mod technique, it doesn't hurt them, is to set mousetraps along the countertop edge. Their paws are too big to get trapped. Its the sound that scares the crap out of them.

  4. Katherine says

    Thanks so much, Hollye, for your entertaining, enlightening, honest, and always heartfelt blog! It is so generous of you to reach out to all of us at this time with your wit and wisdom. I know how hard it is to write something that is easy to read. We adore you!


  5. Nini says

    So, our 110 pound Bernese Mountain Dog had to go to boot camp after he was "at the counter checking out the deli meats", leaned back and turned his head toward me as if to ask: "what kind of sandwich do you want?" One time, he quietly ate an entire coffee cake and nudged the empty plate back to the back of the counter while our daughter and friend were out for a run and came back to ask: "Where's the rest of the coffee cake?" Basically, we have a pretty tidy kitchen after all our big fellas… Big dog – Big personality! Ahhh, the stories our animals share! :-)

  6. Michele says

    The coins work! Our chocolate lab, Mackinaw, is proof. We use a small water plastic water bottle and shake it a few times when he is "in the act" of wrong doing, i.e. jumping up on someone and giving them a lick on the lips! These poor labs and food :(