Q. We have a Newfoundland who is just over a year old. He is stealing things off the counters. What can we do to prevent this?
A. Dogs are skillful, natural scavengers, meaning they’re always ready to snag an available snack. Your Newfoundland is just the right height to see, smell and help himself to good things left unguarded on your counters. Counters have been easy pickings for your dog, so it’s not surprising he checks there for goodies. Each time he takes food from your counter, the habit grows stronger.
To eliminate counter foraging, do not allow your dog free access to stuff left on counters. Manage the situation by gating him out of the kitchen when nobody’s there or keeping counters clear of goodies in between uses. This may seem a hassle, but to change your dog’s habit you must not provide opportunities for successful scavenging.
Teach your dog to stay on a rug or mat when he’s in the kitchen with you. Reward him from time to time when he lies on his “kitchen spot.” If he leaves the mat, remind him to lie back down. If he keeps getting up to move closer to your food, calmly remove him from the room and close the gate.
Keep him out of the kitchen or all steal-able items off counters when he’s not being watched. Teach him “leave it” so he’ll not take things while you’re there. Reward him with food treats and tidbits when he stays quietly on his assigned spot when he’s in the kitchen with you.
Once in a while give your dog an outlet for his natural desire to find food by scattering some of his regular food around the yard and encouraging him to find it. Practice household obedience homework daily – sit, lie down, come, stay – rewarding him with treats for being such a good, cooperative dog.
Help your dog break the thieving habit by preventing repetition of the behavior and teaching him there are better ways to earn food.