Category Archives: counter surfing

Do Dogs and Cats Know Right From Wrong?

By Julia Williams

A few weeks ago, when my cat Rocky guest wrote a post on How to Spoil Your Cat, he mocked me for making a big deal out of his counter surfing when company was there. He implied that I freely allow him to get on the kitchen counters when no one is looking, which is only partially true. I do make a bigger fuss when people are over, because I know how ‘icky’ it is for many people to see cats walking on surfaces where food is prepared. However, it’s not like I love him getting up there. It grosses me out too, but I have tried everything known to man to keep him off the counters, and nothing works. Whenever there’s food preparation going on or I’m dishing the FELIDAE cat food into their bowls, he’s right there in my way, trying to steal anything he can get his paws on. Let’s just say he’s earned his nicknames, Naughty McNaughterson and Quick Paw McGraw, and that should speak volumes about my ordeal with this cat and kitchen counters.

Rocky’s post prompted a reader to comment that they believed in disciplining their cat to teach it what was acceptable behavior and what was unacceptable. I laughed and told my friend, “Oh, Rocky knows it’s wrong to get up there, but he does it anyway.” This got me to thinking about animals and whether they really do have a capacity to know right from wrong. Plenty of people are adamant that animals don’t have any sense of morality or the ability to think about such concepts as ‘right and wrong’ in the same way that humans do. Many claim animals are incapable of complex human emotions and have no grasp of concepts like right and wrong.

But Professor Marc Bekoff from the University of Colorado disagrees. He believes that morals are ‘hard-wired’ into the brains of all mammals. “The belief that humans have morality and animals don’t is a long-standing assumption, but there is a growing amount of evidence that is showing us that this simply cannot be the case,” he said. Professor Bekoff presented his case in a book called Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals which I’ve not read but now have on my wish list.

I was only kidding when I told my friend that Rocky knew what he was doing was wrong, but I was intrigued by the possibility nonetheless. So much so, that I decided to conduct an informal poll among my pet loving friends. I asked them if they believed dogs and cats knew right from wrong. The responses I got were about half yes and half no. Regardless of which side they were on, people gave various examples and reasons why they believed one way or the other. This proved even more thought provoking.

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Why Dogs Counter Surf, and How to Stop It


By Ruthie Bently

Many dogs counter surf no matter how well trained they are, but most of what I’ve read does not address why they do it, just the methods you can use to stop them. I believe the reason that many dogs (mine included) counter surf is because they are hard-wired with the instinct to seek food. While dogs have been domesticated for about 15,000 years now, they still have instincts stemming from their wolf ancestors.

If a wild wolf pack is lucky enough to kill an adult moose (which weighs between 1200 and 1800 pounds) they gorge themselves. An adult wolf can eat fifty pounds of meat at one time and the reason they do is because they don’t know when their next meal will be. Not every dog counter surfs, but since they all have this instinct they can be prone to it.

Other reasons given for why dogs counter surf are that they are hungry or bored, have a nutritional deficiency, or simply because it smells good and tastes even better. While some of these reasons make sense, I don’t agree with all of them. I will agree with the smells good and tastes better idea, but my counter surfing dog isn’t bored (we play or walk every day) and she gets plenty of good food to eat. I thought I was a bad owner and she did it just to spite me but then my vet explained about the instinct and it made sense to me.

So, how do you stop your dog from counter surfing? The best way is to prevent the temptation for your dog to do it. Don’t leave your dog alone if there is food on the kitchen counter or table. Teach your dog “off” or “leave it” and make sure to use either command if you catch your dog getting up on the counter or table.

The “penny can” is another method you can try to stop the counter surfing behavior, although in my experience it isn’t terribly effective. Put some pennies in a can and place the can on some food bait or attached to it to so that when the dog grabs the food they will (in theory) be frightened by the noise and run off, leaving the food behind. Although Skye was scared off by the noise, she still grabbed the food and took it with her as she ran out of the room. I have, however, used my “spritz” (a spray bottle filled with water) on her and it works. If I have cooked food I put it in the microwave or oven to keep her from it, and don’t leave the kitchen if I am preparing food.

Special thanks to Vickie’s dog, Tsavo, for posing for this picture!

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.