The Mercury News

Putting the kibosh on a counter-surfing pooch's food theft

- — Julie Hartley, Burlington, Iowa Animal Life runs on Mondays. Contact Joan Morris at AskJoanMor­ris@gmail. com.

DEAR JOAN >> My daughter has an 8-month-old malamute who counter surfs and gets on the dining room table.

She tries to keep the counters clean, but the dog catches every mistake. Do you have any suggestion­s?

DEAR JULIE >> For opportunis­tic and ever optimistic dogs, the surf is always up, but there are ways to put a stop to Moondoggie's cruising. And yes, I just made a reference to “Gidget,” which likely went over the heads of anyone born in this century.

Dogs can be highly motivated by rewards. Consider in the case of your daughter's dog, the first time the dog sniffed around on the counter or got up on the table, he or she was rewarded with a delicious treat. Even if the pup only found food once, that's enough motivation to keep trying.

The easiest solution, in theory, is to keep the dog out of the kitchen and dining room, especially when food is being prepared or served. Your daughter can try crating the dog or installing a baby gate to block access. This prevents any intrusions, but it doesn't change the dog's desire to surf, and given the opportunit­y, the pup will keep looking and hoping.

My sister made the mistake of giving my dog a taste of her supper a few times, and now he hounds her at every meal, sniffing around for an accidental spill, and it has given her a complex.

Start the training process by teaching the dog the “leave it” command. Put a treat in each hand and extend one closed fist toward the dog, letting it sniff. Say “leave it,” and when the dog stops sniffing, say “Yes,” and offer the dog a treat from the other hand. Continue with the “leave it” training until the dog immediatel­y stops sniffing when given the command. Then move on to phase two.

Put the dog on a leash and toss a treat just out of reach. When the dog starts pulling toward the treat, give the “leave it” command.

When Moondoggie stops pulling, say “Yes,” and give a reward, preferably one that's even tastier, so the dog learns that obeying has even better rewards.

Then whenever the dog heads toward the counter or table, use the “leave it” command. The same training works for the “off” command to get the dog off the table.

DEAR JOAN >> Do you know why after it rains, we get a substantia­l number of worms covering our concrete patio? All edges are vertical, such as steps. Sometimes we even get them inside our dog's water dish!

I've never seen a worm on a vertical surface like you might see a slug or snail. It makes no sense to me. — Bill Rankin, San Jose

DEAR BILL >> It does to the worm.

Worms are actually fairly adept at climbing all sorts of surfaces, from smooth to porous. On more porous surfaces, such as concrete or wood, they use the tiny hairs on their bodies — the same ones that help them travel through soil — to grab hold.

Climbing tends to be aided by moisture, which the rains provide. The rain is also why they leave the safety of their soil or compost. Too much water fills the tiny air spaces that worms need to breathe undergroun­d. With all the rain we've had, it's a wonder there are any worms left.

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