Q: My Lab stands almost as high as I do now at 1 year old, and when we leave the house, he thinks our kitchen counter is a buffet table. He even eats the fruit we leave out in the fruit basket and breaks open any bags of bread or cookies. When we get home and see the devastation, we always show the mess to him and scold him, but as soon as we are done, he starts looking up there for food again. How can we train him to leave the counter alone?
A: This is more of a management situation than a training situation. In a training situation, you would spend a week or so with the dog all day long, and every single time he goes for any food on the counter, you would then correct him. Thus, he would learn to leave it alone. The operative words here are “every single time.” You can do this only if you are with the dog all day long. So you must manage the situation by either gating off the kitchen so the dog has no access to it when you are not home or just locking up anything edible in a high cupboard, out of his reach and sight and smell.
If the dog does not have the opportunity to counter surf like this, eventually he will forget it was ever an option. Scolding the dog after the fact when you get home is useless. There is no way he has the cognitive ability to figure out that you pointing at an empty bread basket and yelling at him means he should not eat bread out of it when you put more back into it. This is the perfect situation where you have to look at things from the animal’s point of view to figure out what is going on.