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Why Is My Dog Stealing Food (5 Likely Reasons)

Labrador eating cookies

Have you ever heard the expression “counter-surfing1“? It’s the term given to the maddening behavior of your pooch putting his big paws on your kitchen counter to steal leftover food—or worse, the whole chicken! And even if your dog doesn’t go so far as to jump on the counter, he may be stealing food from the trash can, the refrigerator, or the bowls of other pets in your household.

There are five main reasons behind this relatively common but infuriating behavior. Read on for more details and to find out how to prevent your dog from stealing food.

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The 5 Likely Reasons Your Dog is Stealing Food

1.  Your Dog Is Hungry

This is the most obvious reason: your dog is hungry and he has understood very well that the kitchen counter or the dining table conceals tasty treasures to reach for! After all, you spend your time cooking mouth-watering food there; it’s normal for your dog to want to nibble on a piece of it too.

Siberian husky dog puppy eating a meat
Image Credit: Tati argent, Shutterstock

2. Your Dog Gets a Reward

Even if your dog is not necessarily hungry, he still tries to steal food because he receives a reward each time he succeeds. And we’re not just talking about the piece of meat as such: by stealing food from under your nose, your pup also catches your eye!

Indeed, who has never reacted in front of his dog trying to steal food by telling him to stop or by suggesting to go get the ball instead? So even if you reprimand him, you are paying attention to your pet and that gives him a good reason to keep counter surfing.

In short, when a dog behaves in a certain way and that behavior is rewarded or reinforced, they are more likely to repeat that behavior over and over again. Finding a delicious piece of chicken on the counter is an incredible reward in itself. But if he also gets your attention every time, he is likely to repeat this behavior until he is no longer rewarded.


3. Your Dog Needs a Little Training

Whether you have a brand new puppy or an older dog, a lack of obedience training may be the reason why he keeps jumping on the kitchen counter or stealing food elsewhere. Indeed, some dogs steal food simply because they never learned it was forbidden, or maybe they just need a little reminder. To remedy this behavior, you will need to teach—or re-teach—your dog to react differently to food that is not his.

person training a small dog`
Image Credit: Pezibear, Pixabay

4. Your Dog Needs More Physical and Mental Stimulation

In other words, your pooch is bored! Indeed, the lack of physical and mental stimulation can lead to many behavioral problems, including stealing food.


5. Your Dog Has an Anxiety Disorder

If your dog, in addition to stealing food, guards it fiercely afterward, he may be suffering from an anxiety disorder called resource guarding. The dog who suffers from it tends to guard his toys in the same way as food, as well as everything that he deems valuable.

This disorder usually develops during puppyhood. This is especially true if your dog grew up in a multi-dog household and had to fight to keep his resources.

Funny dog eating appetizing treat
Image Credit: Olena Yakobchuk, Shutterstock

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Tips to Stop Your Dog from Stealing Food

  • Make sure your dog’s nutritional needs are met. Maybe he’s stealing food because he’s really hungry? If in doubt, ask your veterinarian for advice.
  • If your dog only eats once a day, divide his portion into two meals. This will give him the impression of being more sated.
  • Never leave your dog’s kibble bowls in self-service. This could tell your dog that when he’s hungry, he can eat all he can. So then why should he deprive himself of eating the piece of chicken lying on the table?
  • Don’t leave any food or crumbs on your kitchen counter and dining table after the meal is over. There is no point in tempting your dog if you doubt his will to resist a piece of food on the corner of the table.
  • Teach your dog to return to his pad or crate to deflect him into another action when he gets too close to the table.
  • Make sure everyone in your household is on the same page. Don’t give your dog pieces of food when you’re cooking.
  • Don’t reprimand your dog for stealing food while you were away. A dog lives in the moment, so he won’t understand why you’re angry.
  • Keep your dog physically and mentally active. He will be less prone to stealing food out of boredom if he burns enough energy daily.
  • Call in a canine behavior expert if your dog is very aggressive towards his food. Visit the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB) site for more resources.
maltese dog walking with owner at the park
Image Credit: artellliii72, Pixabay

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Conclusion

Changing your dog’s habit of stealing food is a challenge because you must first understand the reason for this behavior. We’ve discussed the five most common reasons, but it can be difficult to know what’s really going on in your dog’s head. But most of the time, stealing food is simply a self-gratifying behavior for your dog.


Featured Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

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