Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Counter Surfer

SUMMARY: Beach Boys song: Surfer dog, surfer dog, my little surfer dog...

Little surfer, little one,
Made my heart come all undone
Do you love me, do you surfer dog,
Surfer dog, my little surfer dog?

I posted today to a dog behavior group:

OK, since [the list organizer] posted this matrix, which includes "counter surfing"--

(Graphic by Lupe Matt, used with permission.)

I'd like some suggestions on breaking that. He was three when I got him, have now had him for 9 months. I haven't had to worry about dogs taking things from counters or tabletops for many many years, and I must say that I enjoy being able to leave things out that are convenient for me--my pillbox on the table, the banana bread on the counter for easy slicing, like that. (He hasn't actually eaten any meds or shown an interest in them, but since he started taking stuff off tables/counters, I can't in good conscience leave them out any more. )

He never puts his paws up when I'm home. (Well--once, when he first got here, and I most likely did something like, "Hey! Get your feet off there!" and clapped or similar action. Don't remember.) Anyway, I thought he got the message because nothing happened for about 3 months. Then he started pulling things off the counter or table. Bag of treats that I left on the counter. Dirty napkin. Frozen-food dish that I'd left on the table when finished. Like that.

Here's one thing that I know about operant conditioning: Random reinforcers are stronger than constant reinforcers. So he occasionally finds something, thereby randomly rewarding himself, mostly likely making the counter surfing into a stronger behavior. I've been trying very hard to never leave anything with any scent or hint of food on the table (like going to Yosemite and not leaving anything that smells like food in your tent or car, so I'm used to this concept), but I still come home to muddy toeprints on the edge of the counter or table, or some papers that I left on the table that are now on the floor.

So, when I see him glancing at the counter (he never stares at it that I have seen), I might say his name and ask him for some other behavior, like Sit or Down, and reward.

But it's not stopping. And I'm not perfect and never will be (yesterday it was a used napkin on the table). And I miss being able to leave stuff out.

I had this fantasy about removing the randomness--leaving exactly the same thing out on the counter in exactly the same place day after day after day, and then one day stopping it, thinking that that would extinguish the behavior faster. But, actually, I'm not going to try that experiment. :-)

Funnyish story--over Xmas, he spent the weekend with his previous owners--man and 10-yr-old boy. I commented that Chip had started counter surfing, and the boy asked, "what's that?" and the man answered, "Remember that morning when we came downstairs and discovered Chip standing on the kitchen counter?"

So it's apparently not an entirely new behavior.

Suggestions?



If you want a quick explanation of why random reinforcers are stronger than constant ones, see: Intermittent Reinforcement.

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