In happens in homes all around the world… food mysteriously disappears off the counter. Who’s responsible? In many cases it’s probably a children or husband who sneaks off with the freshly baked cookies, but all-too-often it’s the family cat. In addition to the dangers of your cat stealing and ingesting a potentially dangerous food, there are so many risks to being on the counters such as getting burned on the hot stove, licking food off a sharp knife, or grabbing a sharp toothpick. A cat on the counter is also not advisable from a hygiene standpoint. Most people don’t want paw prints on their meatloaf.
There are effective and ineffective ways to keep your cat off the kitchen counter. The ineffective way is to squirt her with water, yell at her, smack her or grab her. All those methods will just make her become more afraid of you. She’ll also quickly catch on to the fact that as long as you’re not around the counter is a good place to be. She’ll wait until you walk out the door to go to work and then she’ll get back on the counter. There’s a much better way to train your cat to stay off the counter without you having to be the bad guy in the process.
The first step is to understand what attracts your cat to the counter because that will play a role in creating a better option for her.
Yummy Food and Enticing Scents
There are so many good aromas coming from the counter and depending upon the time of day, there is an array of tasty food just waiting for a hungry feline to enjoy an impromptu buffet.
A Bird’s-Eye View
In many homes, the view out the kitchen window is very interesting, especially if you’ve installed a bird feeder right there or if the kitchen window overlooks outdoor activity such as the swingset where the kids play.
Visual Advantage for Safety
The higher up your cat is, the greater her visual advantage when it comes to seeing if an opponent cat is entering into the room. This is especially important in multipet households where relationships are tense. A cat doesn’t want to be ambushed unexpectedly.
Sometimes the cat will jump on the counter to get your attention. Typically, it works because you probably shoo her down or talk to her. From the cat’s point of view, this method works every time even though the attention she’s receiving is negative.
Review the above list and try to figure out the reason(s) why your cat may be seeking the kitchen counter. That will be a good start toward creating alternate behavior.
Here are some examples:
if your cat is attracted to the food on the counter, remove temptation by making sure all food is put away. To entertain her, set up some puzzle feeding toys so she gets some playtime in during mealtime.
If you think she’s on the counter to look out the window, set up a cat tree or window perch at another window and place a bird feeder outside for her to watch.
In a multipet home, your cat may be trying to achieve more of a visual advantage in order to see if an opponent is approaching. To create an alternative for her, set up a multi-perched cat tree. If you have more than two cats, consider a second cat tree as well so there will be plenty of territorial space for everyone.
When it comes to safety, elevation plays a key role there and cat trees are a wonderful option. Place the tree in an appealing location. Don’t hide the tree in a far-off room if the location your cat prefers is in the family room or near a particular window.
You can create safety by putting out some cozy cat beds in elevated locations as well.
If the counter cruising behavior is an attention-seeking behavior then when she’s up there isn’t the time to make eye contact with her or engage in any type of conversation or petting. If she’s on the counter and you need to remove her just pick her up and place her on the floor without any other communication. Pay attention to her when she’s on the floor or on allowable elevated areas. This will show her that the attention she wants will only be achieved when she’s where she’s supposed to be.
The next part of training involves making your counter a less-than-appealing place for feline lounging or cruising. Go to your local discount store and purchase a roll of plastic carpet protectors. Get the kind that has the pointy little feet on one side. Unroll the plastic and cut it into several so the pieces will conform to your counter. This will also make it easier to keep the counter protected on one side when you’re working on the other side.
Place the protector pieces on the counter with the pointy feet side up. Your cat will make the association that the counter isn’t an appealing area to walk on. This remote form of training will also prevent you from being associated with this unpleasant turn of events
Keep the carpet protector pieces in place whenever the counter isn’t be used. For this to be truly successful though you have to provide her with alternative locations. Cats live in a vertical world so elevation is very important to them. If you aren’t going to allow your cat on particular elevated areas you have to provide her with something that is more appealing.
Need More Information?
For more specific help in training your cat to stay off the counter, refer to any of Pam’s books, including Think Like a Cat. If you’re having cat behavior problems or cat training issues and would like a consultation with cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC, contact our office for more information.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is the star of Psycho Kitty airing on Discovery UK. She is author of seven best-selling books on cat behavior including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. Think Like a Cat has become known as the cat bible. Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting. In addition to her television series and public speaking engagements, Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN. Cat Behavior Associates offers private cat behavior appointments on a limited basis. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.