Adult dogs who are already surfing the counter or tabletop can be a real problem — especially when they do harm to themselves or to something precious that you had on the counter. I remember when my mom acquired a 4-year-old, rescued Doberman Pinscher, Max, who had been fed people food and kissed right on the snout and mouth on a regular basis by his original owner. My mom was unaware of this treatment until she had an experience while baking some cherry pies for a school fundraiser one Sunday afternoon.
It was gorgeous outside that day for a Midwestern winter. The sun was shining and it was a little chilly outside, but not freezing as one would expect for that time of year. My mom called to my brother, asking if Max, our new dog, was in his kennel. My brother replied yes, but Max actually was in the backyard playing and loving his newfound freedom on the farm, not in his kennel. Mom, not noticing Max running around in the backyard, placed the hot cherry pies, fresh from the oven, to cool quickly outside on the patio table before we had to leave for the event. And with the cooler winter temperatures, they would not have to remain outside for long.
Mom walked back into the house to get ready. When Max spotted those cherry pies, he must have thought for sure my mom had left him a real treat. It didn’t take long for him to dive in. I happened to be on our upper patio, and I witnessed as he leaped and licked the cherry goo from his face, paying no attention to how hot that pie must have been. I opened the upstairs patio door and yelled, “Max is out and his face is in a pie!” I then heard my mom come flying out the back door, lots of crashing noises and, ultimately, Mom chasing Max away while whirling a dishtowel over her head. At the time, this was hysterical to me. It had to be uber frightening to poor Max. Mom was able to save one pie, and she let Max live to see another day even though she was so upset.
We did some research into Max’s prior history and found out that, for a guard dog, he had been mishandled as a puppy. His owners were in his face kissing him too much and being at his level all of the time. This led Max to think that he was equal to, if not in charge of, his owners, and anything left unattended must have been left there for him.
Steps To Retraining
Max taught me many lessons as a child that I still utilize in my dog training practice today. Following are two cornerstones to training:
1. Don’t tempt a dog into behavior that you will regret later, no matter how cute the behavior seems to be at the time. It is most likely a behavior that will drive you crazy down the road.
2. Undoing bad habits takes a plan, and it also takes patience. Getting frustrated at Max would not stop his behavior. Nor would yelling at him or getting angry and waving towels. We had to make a plan to change Max’s mind regarding what was his and who was in charge of the home.
We retrained our adult dog Max slowly. We knew practicing patience during retraining was important, so we didn’t yell or raise our voice with Max. We created a simple and consistent means of communicating with Max in four steps:
1. Utilizing his name
2. Giving him the command
3. Praising his good and proper behavior
4. Teaching him a release word
And how did we tackle the counter and tabletop problem?
• We first put him on a crate schedule that gave him the necessary “breaks” he needed to know he was “off duty.” After all, he was in a new home with new rules.
• We worked hard, limiting the amount of face-to-face time he was given, limiting his time around all of those tempting items like hot cherry pie fresh from the oven, and gave him plenty of exercise and training in different areas like sitting, staying and focusing on us. We trained him to play fetch and to stay in one place while we ran around the yard tempting him to leave his spot, yet praising him when he remained lying down where we asked him to stay.
• We gave him something else to focus on that he enjoyed to distract him from the counters and tabletops. We found a great toy that motivated him to want to please us so he earned time with this toy.
It took a few months, but Max found joy in things besides surfing the counters and tabletops. His anxiety definitely decreased due to the fact that we were able to communicate with him regarding what his job was and he fully understood and was able to execute our commands. That made us all happy.
If you are having an issue with your adult dog, become an observer of how your dog responds to your actions. Take a few notes for reference and make a plan. Enlist a professional. Make sure your family or anyone who will be caring for and interacting with the dog is on board as well. I’ve seen dogs who go sit by the counter where the treat jar is located when certain family members are home, and they bark or do tricks in order to get the treat they think they have coming to them from the one family member who they know will cave in.
When your dog makes demands or leads your day, lies in your spot on the couch or tells you that it is dinnertime, it seems cute doesn’t it? What is not cute is that your dog is confused and thinks he is in charge of you. If you don’t begin some simple techniques to change your dog’s mind, your problems will only increase.