Keeping Cats Off of Counters

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger gives advice on how to keep counter-surfers at bay.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: December 18, 2009, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: How can I keep my two cats from jumping on the counters and table? I have tried many methods — spray bottles, foil, etc. They will jump up, take a shot from the spray bottle, jump down and get right back up. It doesn't matter if they have been fed two minutes ago or two hours ago. They are driving me crazy! The one is really bad. He will go into a cabinet and get into a closed Tupperware and eat the contents. Needless to say, he is sick later on and I have a big mess to clean up.

A: Cats have legitimate reasons for counter and table surfing. One of the main motivators for counter-surfing is food. Often the kitchen cleanup is less then perfect and a few stray pieces of food or a couple of dirty plates are left in the sink or on the counter. In your male cat’s case, he’s highly motivated by both the challenge of opening the cabinets, prying the Tupperware containers open and then eating their contents. Cats also have an instinctual need to be up high. High places provide safety; they also are useful for displaying hierarchy and they are handy places for socializing with their favorite people.

Your cats' counter-surfing challenges can be solved through a combination of management and behavior modification. You may want to start by installing baby-proof latches on your cabinet doors so that your little Einstein cat can’t open up the cabinets and have access to the Tupperware containers. Also, make sure that all of the dirty dishes are washed and that there are no scraps of food on the counters and table that may entice your cats. Baby-proofing the cabinets and ensuring there is no food on the counters will make it less enticing to jump up on the counters.

The next step is making the counters and tables unappealing places for the cats to go. Apply StickyPaws, a double-sided tape that doesn’t feel very good on paws, on plastic placemats. Place the mats, sticky side up, along with other objects on the counter. When making an area off-limits, it’s important to provide alternative places for the cats to go that are more desirable. Place tall stools, chairs or cat furniture next to the now inaccessible counter or table. Each cat should have his own stool or chair which is placed next to the now-restricted area. It’s important to note that when making areas off-limits, they need to be replaced with alternative locations that are more desirable to the cats.

After blocking the counters and tables, reinforce the cats when they stand or sit on their chairs or stools. Clicker training works great for this. It gives them alternative behaviors to do that are more fun and rewarding then jumping up on counters and tables. You can teach them fun behaviors such as sitting, staying, shaking hands, jumping through hoops and others. You can also reward the cats when they are on their stools with small treats. These alternative locations will soon become places to hang out on that are more rewarding then the now food-free counters.

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Reader Comments

S    Three Oaks, MI

12/20/2009 3:52:54 PM

Cats on the counters/table is a disgusting habit, & really hard to break.

Jenelle    Winnipeg, MB

12/20/2009 11:40:14 AM

I always said if I got a cat I would NEVER let it on my table and I never have the heart to kick them off. They love it up there!!! People probably think I'm so gross, like what I used to think before I had cats...guess I should shape up a little.

karen    cheektowaga, NY

12/19/2009 8:32:25 PM

Great info!!!!

Shirley    Tucson, AZ

12/19/2009 7:50:46 PM

Give up, just let them up on the counters. There are always disinfectants you can use to clean after them.

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