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Canine Behavior/Taking items off counters and dressers


QUESTION: Hi:  We have our labradoodle since he was 9 weeks old.  Although it has been some time since we had a puppy in the house our memories of training came back.  AS a refresher course we had enrolled him in an obedience class and had engaged the services of a professional trainer to come to our home for several weeks.  However, Tucker, our labradoodle now 8 months old continues to take items off of the counter and other surfaces.  We have tried telling him to drop it, but although he knows the command he thinks it is a game.  We tried ignoring him it the item isn't harmful, but this doesn't work.  Nor does the suggestion made by he trainer to anticipate his actions.  This can become an issue when he quietly leaves the room to "steal" items where ever he can.  Tucker is a standard size labradooodle and can stretch out to about four feet when laying down.  It seems that nothing is out of his reach!  He knows many commands. but it appears he has a stubborn side when he refuses to respond.  We are concerned he might very well take something that could harm him although we try to be careful he is extremely fast.  I now cook on the two back burners of my cook top in fear that he might and could very well put his paws on the front two burners if they would be in use. We take him out for walks and play ball outside to release that penned up puppy energy.  When the weather is unfit I tried to get him on the tread mill which he did once, but now refuses to get on it.  Would greatly appreciate any suggestion you have to offer.

ANSWER: Counter surfing is a wonderful adventure for a dog large enough to accomplish it.  There is one "punisher" (no pain, just learning avoidance) that I suggest you attempt for this dog.  I don't know what sort of training you have done.  IF you have used PUNISHERS (choker collar, etc.) then you do not have a trained dog, you have a dog that has developed behaviors to avoid "punishment".  In that case, using this approach may increase your dog's lack of trust in you (acquired when the dog is "trained" using punishment: choker collar, prong collar, "correction", etc.)  In that case, please re-post using followup feature.

You may (or may not) drink carbonated beverages in cans.  If you do not, simply go out and buy a six-pack of anything cheap; drain the liquid, wash out the cans, let them dry upside down (any residual flavor will attract the dog's scent and is an unfair approach).  

Now:  put about six to ten pennies in each dried can and crush the can SO THE PENNIES CANNOT EVER ESCAPE.  Follow these steps.

1.  Buy a package of hot dogs.  Cut two into acceptable bites.  Stand in front of the dog (DO NOT CALL HIM, just go stand in front of him.)  Have the cans with you in a basket or box (so they do not rattle: put them on paper towels as a cushion.)  Allow him to sniff a hot dog bite, then close your hand around it and say "OFF".  
2.  TOSS the hot dog bit IN HIS SIGHT and, as he goes for it (and he will), toss a can in the direction of the treat.  He will most likely still eat the treat but he will have a border line acquired "fear" of the can.  Move around the room, casually.  Toss another treat.  Dog will PROBABLY go for it the second time, toss TWO cans into the direction of the treat.  Dog will, at this point, acquire a fully conditioned response to taking "food" off the floor even though tossed by you.  Leave the room; repeat this again an hour or so later.  By the third event, the dog SHOULD actively AVOID and IGNORE the food on the floor.
3.  Set the dog up:  put a half of a peanut butter sandwich on the counter sitting on a three sheet strong paper towel (Bounty).  Along with the sandwich place three penny cans BEHIND the sandwich (cover them, we don't want the dog to see them).  Leave the room.  He WILL reach up and counter surf.  When he pulls down the sandwich  the cans SHOULD COME DOWN WITH IT.  Now: you are not in the room, this is "magic", the dog will be confused.  He may still eat the peanut butter sandwich.  If he does, go back to square 2.  Never repeat more than three events in one day.
4.  There will come a day (and you will SEE it, you will KNOW it) when your dog acquires a conditioned avoidance behavior to anything on the counter top.  Use the cans and set the dog up but do it kindly.  

Each dog's temperament is unique.  We do NOT WANT THE DOG TO FEAR THE KITCHEN, we just want the dog to NOT surf the counters.  Remember this:  If you leave a sirloin steak in his reach, he will GO FOR IT, despite the cans.  This will extinguish the effects of your intervention.

As for cooking on the back burners only:  this tells me your dog does not truly respond to cues, such as "off", "leave it", etc.  Let's face it: were you to use the front burners, and were the dog to jump up and be burned, he would NEVER do that again.  HOWEVER, we do not deliberately put our dogs in a position to be seriously harmed.

Try the cans.  I use these as a last resort.  Were I able to come to your home, you wouldn't need them, I would intervene in his method of training.  I suggest you learn "off" and "take it" by watching videos from Dr. Ian Dunbar:

I also suggest you review Dr. Dunbar's free online positive reinforcement training series:

Use followup feature to advise regarding the result of your efforts.  IF YOUR DOG DEMONSTRATES EXTREME FEAR - i.e., runs, cowers, growls - DO NOT CONTINUE THE USE OF THE CANS.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Jill Connor, Ph.D.  Thank you for your advise.  Tucker would not attempt to go near the second hot dog on the floor after I threw 2 can down.  I though I would attempt to set up the peanut butter sandwich.  He got the first one without the cans falling.  However, he attempted to go for a second sandwich the cans did fall and he got the sandwich.  I set up a third attempt and he has not touched it only walks around it.  Thought maybe we had the answer, but I spoke to soon.  I was on the computer and Tucker was laying next to me on the floor (good boy).  Had to leave for a brief moment & when I returned he had the computer's mouse in his mouth and wanted to play a game of catch me if you can!  Do you think this means there should be peanut butter sandwiches in the living room as well?  Believe me he certainly is a challenge and way too intelligent.  Any suggestions?  Happy New Year!

The use of the cans is an extreme measure that I don't normally suggest to people as they can really, really mess things up.  In this case: the dog has learned that going up on the counter for a peanut butter sandwich or anything else (most likely) is potentially "dangerous".  He has a conditioned response to the can(s).  I notice in your feedback you left me a message (bad place to leave a message since a great many experts never read their feedback but I do so no worries).  The fact that the "accidental" rattle of the can in your pocket stopped one of his attempts to "steal" something means he has a strong conditioned response.  Keep a can muffled in paper towels in your pocket (wear a sweater with pockets or pants with pockets.)  Out of the corner of your eye, observe the dog.  DO NOT ALLOW HIM out of the room you are in (close doors or use baby gates).  Every time you see him BEGIN to "grab" something, put your hand into the pocket and rattle the can for three seconds.  Now remember: he has "defeated" the can at one point.  Do not overuse the can because, really, nothing bad actually happens!

Something about his "stealing" behavior suggests to me that the "game" of "chase me" is ON! So:  keep all things where he can't reach them, within a reasonable manner (no ladder climbing LOL).  AND: since he thinks it's so much FUN to "steal" your mouse, use a "dead" mouse or go out and buy a cheap one and leave it there, deliberately.  When (not if) he takes it, YOU LEAVE THE ROOM immediately, put a closed door between you and the dog for TEN SECONDS, open the door.  If he still has it in his mouth, CLOSE THE DOOR for ten more seconds, etc., until the "dead" mouse is no longer in his mouth (he may even have come to the closed door, feeling puzzled why the game isn't being played).  Ask for "sit" (I hope you went to Dr. Dunbar's site and are in the process of using positive reinforcement to "train" him using commands (cues) that are NOT "sit", "down", "come", since these words have more than likely lost any effect.  Once the dog has sat to your cue, praise lavishly, and go on as usual.

This is a fine tempered dog but you've got a really bad breed mix here (and I know this is one of the new "designer" breeds).  Both the Labrador and the Standard Poodle are HUNTING dogs: retrievers.  The Standard Poodle is highly intelligent and gets into an awful lot of trouble in an awful lot of homes because its brain is not being "exercised"; the Labrador is bred to RETRIEVE specifically.  So that genetic drive accounts for his "stealing" objects he perceives as important to you, unfortunately the next step is not to BRING the object, but to run WITH the object.  That's the adolescent dog at "play" (we don't quite see it that way lol).

The real trick is: never engage the dog in this "game".  Don't allow important or expensive objects to lie around casually; use decoys so you can leave the room (what I call, "And now for something totally DIFFERENT.")  This too shall pass.  Some dogs acquire a fear response because owners get upset, or angry, or chase them and are angry, and that fear response becomes defensive aggression, denning, avoidance, and ultimately loss of trust in the owner.  It's better to sacrifice an object (so long as it isn't a Cartier watch!) and keep the dog's trust.  Eventually, you will have the tools to redirect the dog on cue, if you continue using positive reinforcement.  You can also "play" take it/leave it as seen here:

Have patience.  This is the "hysterical" age of many breed types.  It should abate about 18 months of age if handled properly.  If he is not neutered, do it.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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