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I have two dogs (~2 years old) which have lived with me in my apartment since they were 3 months old. There are certain boundaries that I want to teach them (no putting the paws on tables, no eating from tables, definitely not eating from the kitchen counter!). One of them seems to get these boundaries just fine, and even enforces them himself every now and then ("scolding" the other dog when he trespasses). The other one, more anxious in general, doesn't seem to get them (or more likely, gets them but doesn't care, since he will stop the behaviour when he hears/sees me approach him).

The "naughty" dog will constantly put his paws on the kitchen counter and try to eat whatever he can get (bread crumbs mostly), and although he normally respects my table, will eat whatever I leave there if left unattended for a couple of hours.

I know that the key to correcting certain behaviours is not so much a harsh punishment but a consistent one (he should get corrected every time he does X behaviour, instead of just once every few times). My problem is that I usually can't catch the behaviour: I live in a studio, so I can't physically restrict access to the kitchen (which is also where he eats and drinks); this means that he has unsupervised access to the kitchen counter, so I probably catch 1 out 10 times he puts his paws in there and licks it. Same goes for food left at the table: I notice when something obvious is missing, but I've often caught him licking crumbs from the plates, which I wouldn't have noticed had I not caught him red-handed.

How can I teach my dog that he can't eat/lick stuff from tables and counters if he has unsupervised access to tables and counters every day?

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Dogs do things that feel good to them. Being scolded by you feels bad, so your dog doesn't eat from the table if you're around. Licking up bread crumbs is tasty and feels good, so your dog does it whenever you're not around to scold him.

The first step is to change your own behavior:

  • Both dogs don't get any kind of food or treat directly from a counter or a table. Never. If you have scraps for your dogs, save them until everyone is finished eating, then put them into their food bowls. They must unlearn that food comes from counters and tables.
  • Measure as exactly as you can how far your dog can reach up the counter. Mark his reach with painters tape or other means that are easily removable later. Never ever store anything (not even a bread crumb) in the area your dog can reach. Push every single item behind the line. Jumping up the counter will no longer feel good if there's nothing to gain from it.
  • Don't let any foot item stay on the table if your're no longer in the room. Either put everything back behind the line on the counter or put it into a container your dog cannot open (like a cupboard, drawer, stoneware or Tupperware container).

Without this first step, you'll never reach your goal. To aid you (and make your dog behave better in general), you should train "leave it" with your dog to improve his impulse control. Have a look at this video that shows 3 stages of the training: Basic understanding of the command, training in unusual situations and redirecting attention towards trained behaviors in real-live situations.

If that still isn't enough to completely stop your dog, you can make his behavior no longer feel good. It must happen automatically and every time. Different dogs react different to certain things, so you need to find what works best for your particular dog.

The problem with these methods is that they may affect your interactions with the kitchen furniture (by being sticky or standing in the way) and that if they fail only once, the whole training was utterly useless because your dog was once more rewarded for his naughty behavior.

  • Dogs tend to dislike the smell and taste of lemons and tabasco sauce. Draw a line of lemon juice or tabasco sauce along the edge of the counter. When your dog tries to lick up bread crumbs, he'll taste lemon/chili instead. Don't overdo it or your dogs might avoid their water and food bowl because of the smell.
  • Lay pieces of adhesive tape around the edge of the counter, sticky side up. When your dog puts his paw up there, he'll notice the tape sticking to it. Most pets (works well with cats, too) are either scared or annoyed by the tape and run off. Be aware that you need to be able to remove the tape from the fur. Use something like painters tape, which releases easily and don't even think about using duct tape!
  • Tie several small empty soda bottles or cans together with a long string. Leave a few inches between each can and a bigger gap right in the middle. Tie some food to the center of the string and set it all up in a long line on the counter, then leave the room. When your dog tries to steal the food, he should be scared by the rattling cans. Immediately return to the room, take the food away but don't interact with your dog otherwise.
  • There are several commercial products available that sound an alarm if anything touches it (alarm mats) or moves in front of it. Google for "pet counter alarm" if you're interested.

To make it absolutely clear: You won't reach your goal by going for the alarms / countermeasures first and ignoring the training and putting things out of reach. Dogs are natural scavangers. Leaving food around is an open invitation to take it. Even if only 1 attempt out of 20 is successful, your dog still knows that your counter is a possible food source.

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