Keep Your Dog Off the Naughty List!

By Veronica Rigatti, VSA-CDT, Canine Behavior Specialist

You worked for hours preparing your perfect holiday meal. You begin to set the food out on the table only to find that when you return with the next dish the first one is gone! Fido is licking his chops looking quite satisfied. The holiday season is not the time you want your dog to discover counter surfing – when a dog jumps up on a counter or table and steals food. Or, maybe your dog has been a counter surfer for years and you are unsure how to stop it.

Now, the stockings are hung, the presents are all stacked under the tree and you’re snuggled up in your bed for a long winter’s sleep. But, when you rise in the morning, you find that everything has been ransacked! Were you robbed or did your dog throw a party last night? Shiny gift-wrapped packages and stockings can look like fun toys to pups, so what could have been done to stop the overnight madness?

Both of these behaviors can certainly put a damper on the holiday spirits. But, there are some things that can be done to prevent them from happening. The number one thing you can do is manage your dog’s environment.

Here are some helpful tips to set your dog up for success this holiday season:

  • Keep counters clear of food when not actively using them to prep.
  • Use baby gates while in the kitchen preparing food so your dog isn’t in the area to steal from the counter top.
  • Put your dog in their crate or a bedroom with some enrichment activities during meal time so there is no begging or jumping onto the table.
  • Use an exercise pen around the tree if you have a pup who likes to sample the pine needles or unwrap gifts.
  • Don’t put ornaments or lights on the bottom of the tree where your dog could potentially pull them off to play.
  • Don’t allow your dog to have access to items that are off limits, or give them the opportunity to practice unwanted behaviors.

Next, begin training alternative behaviors you would like your dog to do instead of the undesirable behaviors:

  1. Teach your dog to go to their place. Have a mat or dog bed that they are trained to go to and relax while other things are happening around them. They can be told to lay there while people are prepping food or eating and when opening gifts. A bone or other chew toy can also be given here as a special reward for them to use to entertain themselves.
  2. Teach a “leave it” cue. This can be used for food or present thieves! Teaching an “off” cue is also useful for those dogs looking for scraps in high places.

Training new behaviors will take time so don’t wait until right before the holidays to start! Search for a reputable, positive reinforcement trainer early if you need extra help. If your dog does not understand the new behavior, use management and set them up for success and continue to work on their training throughout the rest of the year so they will be ready by next holiday season!

For more behavior help, visit our website at or call our Behavior Helpline at 412.847.7059.

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