Is It Ever Too Late To Re-Train?

So much of dog training is counter-intuitive to the human brain. It takes a lot of experience to really know how to handle each challenge. Even with all I have learned, I still frequently find myself slapping my forehead when a better way is revealed. Once I am shown the right way to train something, it seems so obvious and I can never believe I didn’t think of it myself.

I had another “duh” moment last night when a friend shared a video on Facebook on how to solve counter surfing using a clicker.

Yes, stealing food is one of Shiva’s many skills. We tried to fix it using various methods but all we did was teach her to wait for us to leave the room. In fact, I think we have actually managed to make high surfaces even more fascinating than they were before! She has nabbed countless goodies from the kitchen counter, the dining room table, the desk, the end table, and probably ever other surface in our home. Not to mention all of the surfaces that aren’t in our home. If there is a table with something on it, edible or no, Shiva is immediately interested. Hence last Saturday’s dog show registration fiasco.

Massive dog training failure.

Much like our front door issues, we solved the problem by managing it. We never leave food on the counter unless we’re in the room. It’s simple but it does prevent me from multi-tasking. I can’t run downstairs to throw in a load of laundry while waiting for cupcakes to cool. Not unless I take Shiva with me.

Now that I’ve watched this video I realize how many early opportunities we had and how many I screwed up. The question is: is it possible to go back to the beginning and re-train? Or, does she already have too much value for jumping on the counter? Are we doomed to continually apologize to horrified volunteers?

25 thoughts on “Is It Ever Too Late To Re-Train?

  1. I’d guess that you’ll just need to start off a bit slower – and use a particularly tasty reward to make it clear to her that the reward is better than whatever’s on the table. That’s a really neat idea, though. I’m going to have to try that – Gwynn doesn’t jump up, but he does stare wayyy too intently at the food on my plate, and tries to lick the edge of it… getting him to ignore plate-food would be excellent 😛


  2. What a great video–love the explanations of why not to use too much verbage when training this one too.

    I don’t think its too late at all! How does Shiva do with Leave It in general? I think you can have great success transferring this skill to tabletops, starting as the woman in the video says with lame treats on the table and really good rewards.


  3. never too late to train – the old adage you can’t train an old dog new tricks is an old wives tale – trust me – I am an old wife –
    besides Shiva is pretty talented


  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this! We are just getting used to “managing” Hurley’s counter surfing, i.e. we’re not that great yet about remembering never to leave anything on the counters. He jumps up ALL the time, even when I am in the kitchen looking at him, and decides to obey my off only once he has purveyed the counter and determined there is nothing worth eating up there. This video reminded me to break it down, start simple and progress to the actual counter. Duh, right?


  5. I think you can do it Kristine, look at how far Shiva has come, she is continually learning new skills.

    I am going to be checking out your friend’s other videos. I need some good videos to show me what I am doing right and wrong. I am determined!!


  6. I’m afraid I take the easy way out. My dogs are small and they have trained me not to leave food within their reach. They didn’t have to use clickers or anything to train me.


  7. I think its never too late to retrain. But, for some things, it just isn’t worth it, depending on circumstances. For a counter surfing issue, I would say, by all means, try the retraining. Hopefully it works. For some things, though, especially if the dog is older and very set in his ways about something, sometimes it just isn’t worth the huge amount of time and effort that it would take to change those ingrained behaviors.


  8. I don’t think it’s too late either. It will just be a bit harder to train the concept now that she has experienced counter surfing.

    Do you think I could get my cat to stay off the counters and out of the kitchen sink using this method? It would take a lot of work. I have the world’s craziest, most food-obsessed cat there is. He waits for me to leave and then he raids everything. We have a lot of child locks. And he usually has to stay in the laundry room at night and when I leave the house.


  9. I don’t think it’s too late to train! I just think it’ll take longer; habits, once formed, are hard to break.

    I really lucked out, in that Elka does not counter surf, through no skill on my part. Or rather she did, once. I left a block of mozzarella on the counter, post-sandwich making, and left the house for some reason. When I came back, the mozz was still on the counter, but the tiniest corner of it had been delicately chewed away, leaving recognizably Doberman toothmarks on it.


  10. My dad’s dog Maggie is at least 11 and she has picked up loads since he got her last October.

    Song tried to jump up at my kitchen counters the first day and I just said ‘no’ sharply and after just two times, she’s never tried again.


  11. I think you should definitely go back and try to reteach it, even if it will never be perfect after her past successes. One thing we struggle with here is Morgan and the window and door. We are the fourth home that she’s lived in. She has a very typical Shepherd response to strangers outside which is to try to scare them away. In her mind, barking at them works because they never come inside and they always go away. If she’d been here from the time she was a puppy, we’d have worked on a lot of redirection early on, but as it stands, she’s broken the window once and nearly taken out our screen door twice. We’ve worked really hard on redirecting her when we’re home with her, but I feel like we’ll never be able to trust her out of a crate when we’re gone. The reward of barking at someone and succeeding by “scaring them off” when they leave is always going to be there. I can’t risk her hurting herself, though, so we play it safe.


  12. Thanks for sharing this great video! It’s short, straight forward and to the point. When Jersey was a young pup, there were some table surfing issues, but never counter surfing. Maybe it’s because she can barely reach. Dexter is at the stage where he thinks that everything can be his AND he is a very confident little brat. I may press this video into service at some point.

    I am totally confident that you can re-train Shiva from this habit. Look how quickly you taught her to pick up her leash for walkies? You can do it!


  13. Absolutely! Honestly, I think we re-train more than we actually train. Because there is always something we missed, or didn’t value correctly in the first training sessions. When they come out, or bad habits sneak their way back in, re-training is the only way. And interesting as well, trying to research what to do differently this time and try it out. Good luck!


  14. Lots of good comments. And since I’ve never seen you back down from a challenge with Shiva, I know you’ve already begun working with her using the new information you’ve learned.

    But don’t beat yourself up if it’s hard or impossible to get Shiva 100% reliable with food on the counters.

    I remember marveling the first time I saw a dog walk by a low coffee table loaded with food. I assumed all dogs snarfed up food or were just exceptionally well trained. Now, with Honey, I’ve learned that some dogs just aren’t inclined to this particular bad habit.

    Honey is so unlikely to look up for goodies that we had to work hard to get her to lift her head to sniff during nose work classes if we put a treat on a higher surface than the floor.

    And I worked hard with Agatha, but she still surprised me when, at 16 years old, she managed to get a loaf of bread off the top of the fridge (yes, I know I’ve shared this story with you before but it still astounds me; she was blind and deaf at the time!).

    So training is great. And training is helpful. But some things are harder to train than others. 🙂

    Can’t wait to hear how it goes.


  15. Kikopup is amazing. 🙂 I love her videos. She’s moving to Sweden, though! 😦

    Ha, Elli’s never interested in the counters when she knows there’s training going on. She automatically defaults into a sit/down and ignores the counter/table altogether… unless I don’t have a clicker/treats hidden on my person.

    She’s too smart for me.


  16. Great video! I am so sharing this one!

    As far as Shiva goes, I’m a big believer that no dog is too old and no training fail means you can’t try again. I am all ears and eyes on this one. I sure hope you give it a whirl. I’d love to see the results.


  17. I don’t think it’s ever too late. It’s not about timing but about reprogramming how your dog looks at things. Dogs are smart and adaptive, they learn what works, what doesn’t work and what works better. If things change they adapt to the change and learn that things work differently now.


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  19. Lots of good comments. She has a very typical Shepherd response to strangers outside which is to try to scare them away.


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