How to Train Cats to Stay Off Counters
Just what is it about cats and kitchen counters? If your kit likes to make your work surfaces their home, then read on. It’s not unusual for cats to regularly jump up on to shelves, furniture, and tabletops as they love to climb but when it comes to your kitchen, then it’s not so cute. With safety and hygiene an issue, you really want to discourage this habit, but what is the best way to go about it? We take a look at what makes your pet want to jump and how to stop cats from jumping on counters.
Why do Cats Love Counters So Much?
Your cat is built to jump – just one look at their body structure and their lithe, athletic nature and you can understand why they are a little like a coiled-spring. And, with those strong hind legs, they can jump to impressive heights. Cats instinctively like to be high up as it means they get a good ‘cats-eye’ view of what is going on around them, and so jumping is part of the feline nature. And while your shelves, windowsill or table may be good perches for your pet, your kitchen counter has a particular appeal. Not only are they safe and warm places to hang out, and often have a fab window view, but they are packed with interesting (and tasty) things. They smell good – even if you clean those counters, to your kit’s sensitive nose there are still tasty odors hanging around and, if they are lucky, the odd delicious morsel too. Cats are also curious and if their favorite human spends a lot of time working at the kitchen counter, then they want to be part of the action. And finally, cats are drawn to fresh running water and the kitchen counter is a good access route to a dripping faucet they may be able to drink from.
How to Stop Counter Jumping
While you shouldn’t stop your cat’s desire to jump or get up high as it is their natural instinct, for their safety and for general hygiene, you should be discouraging them from kitchen ‘counter surfing’. But it needs to be done in the right way – and your efforts should be measured and consistent. Here’s how to keep cats off counters:
- Stop encouraging your cat to counter surf
The first step is to look at the ways you may be unintentionally encouraging or enabling your cat to counter surf. And that means looking at how your kitchen is set up.
It goes without saying that any temptation needs to be removed and that means keeping those countertops clean and not leaving any treats, food leftovers or crumbs that your kit may be drawn to. You may also need to re-evaluate their mealtimes, and feed smaller meals several times a day if they have the tendency to scavenge. Also, check your faucet to ensure it doesn’t drip and always ensure your cat has access to clean, fresh water and that their drinking bowl is in a low-stress place, so they feel safe and comfortable when they need to drink. And one final tip, check their counter access routes and remove anything that is making it easier – eg. chairs or stools next to the countertop need to be moved away.
- Provide alternatives
If your cat has a desire to jump and get higher, then providing them with an alternative viewing platform to the kitchen counter could well wean them on to a new place to sit. A climbing tree or cat perch are great alternatives, and if your kit insists on being with you when you cook, then you can always look at setting up their own ‘high space’ in the kitchen. Another alternative is a nearby shelf or a windowsill, far enough away from the cooking action but still near enough to their favorite human can be enough answer the question – how to keep a cat off the table.
- Distract them
Ongoing management of your cat’s jumping behavior is also a solution, and this means distracting them before they leap. To do this, it is best to limit or manage your cat’s access to the kitchen if you can, and only let them in when you are in the kitchen space. Then, if you see them preparing to leap or find them on the counter, act quickly to distract them to move. This could be as simple as throwing their favorite toy or a little kibble in the opposite direction, and quickly positively encouraging them to move away.
- Use a deterrent
If other efforts to keep your kit off your kitchen counters are not working, you could look at using a physical deterrent. When looking at using a deterrent, your cat’s safety and wellbeing is paramount, and any deterrents should be removed once your cat has stopped getting up onto the counter.
Quick, easy and safe deterrent ideas include:
Double-sided sticky tape – strategically adding some strips of double-sided tape to the counter surface can create a sticky sensation your feline will not enjoy stepping on and will start to avoid. The downside is that you will need to regularly replace the tape, so it keeps its sticky status.
Aluminum foil – the rustling sound and sensation foil creates when stepped on should be enough to get your cat to do a U-turn when it comes to walking on your countertop. Secure in place with tape and it shouldn’t be too long before most cats get the ‘keep off’ message.
Motion-activated pet deterrents – these can be a good option if other methods have not quite worked. Battery-operated, these harmless devices will emit a burst of air when a cat approaches. They won’t hurt your cat but will ruffle them enough to keep them away.
Tips on Using Deterrents
You are wanting to discourage your cat’s counter surfing behavior and not traumatize them so only ever choose a deterrent that will cause no harm or emotional distress to your cat. They should also not be used in isolation, but alongside other methods, as outlined above. And once your kit has got the message, remove the deterrent and continue with positive reinforcement measures to reward your cat for its newly learned good behavior.
Can Training Work?
As well as removing temptation and implementing a few deterrents, it is also possible to train cats to stay off counters. Clicker training – which uses positive reinforcement to help your cat to associate a sound with a reward could well be the answer for the more stubborn feline counter surfer. With a clicker, you call your cat to you, and if he comes you click the clicker, then give him a treat. With steady and consistent use, your kit will come to associate the clicker, first with a treat and then eventually to positive praise alone, meaning you can use the clicker on its own to redirect your cat away from the kitchen counter.
Reward Their New Behavior
When it comes to redirecting undesirable behavior in your cat – including counter surfing – positive reinforcement is essential. So, when your cat responds to your redirection away from the counter or chooses to jump on its perch or alternative chair, then always reward him for his good behavior. And it shouldn’t always have to be treats. Spending time with your cat and letting him know he is doing good will have a longer lasting effect and hopefully, help him to associate his non-counter jumping behavior to receiving love and praise from his human. And giving your kit attention and some quality time, when they do the right thing is good for you both and makes staying off and away from the counter so much more appealing for your cat.
What Not To Do
Whilst outlining what you can do to stop your cat jumping onto your kitchen counters, it is also important to highlight what you shouldn’t do:
Don’t scold your cat: A negative or angry response to their counter surfing is not going to deter your kit in the long run but is more likely to make them more wary of you.
Don’t physically push your cat: Even a light shove is a negative response that could scare or alienate your pet and, in their rush to get away from you, they could fall or get hurt.
Never use physical deterrents: If your cat is nervous or skittish – know your cat and make sure your response to their jumping is appropriate to their personality. You want to gently and positively persuade your cat away from the counter, not scare or traumatize them. A physical deterrent that scares your cat, is more likely to make them afraid of you than deter them from jumping on the counter.
Despite your best efforts, if your cat’s counter surfing remains a significant problem then do have chat with your vet, who may be able to recommend or refer you to an animal behaviorist who can get to the root cause of the problem and recommend alternative behavior management techniques. But in most cases, a few simple steps as outlined above should be enough to divert your pet’s interest away from the kitchen. However, you may find that your cat will still occasionally leap up on to your kitchen counter. If this is the case, then alongside your consistent training, discouragement and positive reinforcement, then making sure your kitchen worksurface is always a safe space for both you and your cat is a good idea. Cleaning, disinfecting and keeping leftover food and sharp objects off the countertop are natural habits we should all fall into – and means the occasional countertop visit by your cat should be a drama-free affair.