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How To Keep Cats Off Counters And Tables

Nov 1, 2011 · Updated Jul 22, 2015 · ·
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  1. Anne
    If you have been reading a bit about feline behavior, then you should know by now that cats and discipline don't mix; in other words, you should never punish your cat. Cats are not dogs and you simply can't take your cat to obedience class… That said, sometimes you need to lay down some rules in the house and get an educational point across to your cat.

    Punishment, in the human ethical and moral sense of the word, does not work with cats. In this article we're going to explain the negative reinforcement principles of one common behavioral issue: cats jumping on counters.

    Why Do Cats Jump on Tables and Kitchen Counters?


    Before you even begin teaching your cat to stay away from certain places, let's look at the causes for this type of behavior. Cats require a sufficient amount of living space, including enough vertical space. So before restricting your cat from accessing some areas, make sure that Kitty has plenty of roaming and climbing space within your home. Invest in cat trees, cat gyms and designated cat shelves. This stage is crucial! Giving your cat very little climbing space will result in a stressed and frustrated kitty and even more behavioral issues down the road.

    Not sure how to make more vertical space? We have some ideas. Here's how to make your home BIGGER (at least for your cats)

    Using Negative Reinforcement with Cats

    Once you've made sure that your cat has enough space (vertical space included), it's time to learn how to teach your cat right from wrong and "explain" to her which surfaces are off-limits. Since we are trying to prevent a certain type of behavior, rather than encourage one, we'll have to use Negative Reinforcement.

    Remember, we are not talking about punishing the cat! We are simply trying to create a certain connection in the cat's mind by associating undesirable behavior with a negative outcome. .

    Before I review the various methods for achieving this, there are three principles to keep in mind when attempting any kind of negative reinforcement with cats –
    • Keep the human out of the loop - We want to make sure that the cat associates the negative result directly with the action we want to prevent – never with you, the cat owner.
    • Keep the reinforcement consistent – This is true of any behavioral learning process and is crucial when it comes to negative reinforcement. It means the cat has to receive a negative reaction every single time it attempts the behavior we wish to discourage.
    • Keep stress levels down – Remember that cats are individuals and may have different reactions to sudden sounds, or any other type of sensory stimulation you may opt to use. Aim at making the unwanted behavior result in something unpleasant, but make sure it's not too frightening and doesn't cause your cat unnecessary stress.

    Here are two options that are to be avoided:

    1. Water Squirting

    This is probably one of the best-known techniques of negative reinforcement. The idea here is for the cat owner to always be on guard, ready with a squirt bottle.

    If you take a look at the principles outlined above, you'll see that water squirting is not a good method for negative reinforcement.

    First, it could possibly associate you with the punishment. Ideally, anyone using this method should try to attract as little attention to her or himself as possible. In reality, this is extremely difficult to achieve, as ‘hiding’ and squirting is really problematic and also most owners project their own nervousness and agitation into the process.

    Secondly, in terms of consistency, this method is far from perfect. It's difficult to be on the alert at all times, or even around at all times, and you end up with having a non-consistent pattern.

    Thirdly, and probably most importantly, the water spray is too stressful for most cats. Fourthly, it could very well make them frightened of water.

    There's actually more! Here are 5 Reasons To Never Spray Water On Your Cat.

    2. Can Shaking/Compressed Air Can


    Another well-known technique, it involves an empty soda can with some coins in it, or even a compressed air can. It relies on making a loud and disturbing noise to disrupt the cat’s activity.

    It has most of the problems associated with water squirting: You, the ‘can shaker’, can be seen as the source of the negative reinforcement, there is a big problem with continuity, and of course, it can create a strong stress response in many cats.

    In both of these instances you could end up with a stressed cat and a multitude of behavioral problems.

    Booby Traps: Common but Problematic

    Another popular negative reinforcement technique is booby trapping the area you wish your cat to avoid. One way to achieve this is to prepare a few empty soda cans, fill them with some coins or beans, and tie them one to the other. Then, place them on the edges of any high surface that you wish to keep your cats from jumping on, such as the kitchen counter. Should your cat jump, the cans all tumble down creating a loud racket.

    The mousetrap version of the same idea entails setting up several wooden non-baited mousetraps, and placing them upside down on the surface you wish your cat to stay away from, and then cover them with a sheet of newspaper or even a towel. Should the cat jump on the counter, the triggered trap snaps with a loud noise, scaring kitty away.

    Booby trapping surfaces like this has the advantage of getting you, the owner, out of the loop. The loving owner is never associated with the loud noise produced by the mousetrap or line of cans. It is also more consistent, as you can set up your booby trap and leave the room. Your cat will still create the negative reinforcement if she or he jumps on the counter. However, if you are away there is a consistency problem as it will only work once before you reset it.

    The downside of booby trapping surfaces like this is that the surprising noise can be too startling for some cats, and again, you could end with a stressed feline instead of a trained one.

    So what is the answer?

    Here’s a good option: Surface Covering

    The idea is to make the surface that you wish to keep your cat away from uncomfortable to walk on. This can be done by using plastic carpet runners with points up, or using some double-sided adhesive tape. You don't have to stick any of the tape directly on your counters. What worked best for many of my clients was taking a thick plastic sheet and covering it with double-sided tape, creating their own homemade sticky mat. Then, whenever they were not using the counters, they would cover them with that sheet of plastic.

    When taping directly on surfaces, we would usually use regular adhesive tape, creating small loops of tape, with the adhesive on the outside of the ring, and then placing/sticking them across the surface. This would create a similar effect of a sticky surface, but easier to lift off the surface than double-sided tape.

    The end result is the same: The surface becomes uncomfortable for cats to walk on. They may jump once or twice, decide they don't like it, then jump off. Usually within a few days to a couple of weeks, the cats would stop jumping on the treated surfaces altogether, at which point you can take off the adhesive tape/sticky mat.

    With this method you get very consistent negative reinforcement, as your cat will get a negative reaction generated every time she jumps on that surface, whether you're around or not. In fact, you, the cat owner, are completely disassociated from any discomfort caused. As an added benefit, there is no startling factor here, no loud noise or sudden movement.

    This is the right way of teaching cats to stay off counter tops. It does take some effort, but you will end up with a trained cat without creating new behavioral problems.

    The Solution that Works for You and Your Cat

    Negative reinforcement can be very effective as way to teach your cat what not to do. Hopefully this article has provided a better understanding of how negative reinforcement works and why some methods, such as water squirting and booby trapping, should not be used.

    Remember you must always provide your cat with plenty of space, including appropriate vertical space for climbing and jumping. Only then implement the sticky surfaces method. Be consistent and give it time. Some cats can take up to three weeks to stop trying.

    It can be a longish journey, but we're here for you!

    Why not start a thread in our cat behavior forums and let us know about your progress?


    Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

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  1. maggie101
    When I am preparing food for my 3 cats, my car Peaches jumps up right where the bowl is,grabs a bite,then jumps back down. It happens too fast to stop her. Should I put her in my bedroom while making the food ? I can't put tape where I'm preparing food
    1. Furballsmom
      Hi maggie101! I noticed you're posting on the site, and I'm hoping you were able to get your question answered in this forum Cat Behavior
      maggie101 purraised this.
  2. myrnafaye
    My kitten - 7 months old - does not go on counters, he jumps up on the dining room table when we are eating He is interested in what we are EATING. I can't put double sided sticky tape on my table. Any other thoughts?
    1. Furballsmom
      Hi Myrnafaye! I see you're currently posting on the site, and hopefully you had your question answered in this forum Cat Behavior
  3. Merlin77
    :sigh: Nothing works for us. The cats know they aren't allowed up on the counters, but they will jump up while we cook and prepare food. They have stolen noodles and chocolate-covered croissants (which is really bad). They steal bread and rip apart paper towels. We can get them to go down by giving them a quick spray of water, just from the sink/hands, or we carry them off. Oh well. At least they stay outside the majority of the time, hunting or napping in their shed.
  4. Dana the cat lady
    I am having a great deal of difficulty stopping my cat from jumping on EVERYTHING from the kitchen counters to the table to the 6-foot bookcases! He is deaf, so anything that makes noise doesn't deter him at all. I have tried everything from the water bottle (unsuccessful - he laughs at it and thinks it's a game) to aluminum foil (he plays with it). I can't put sticky tape on the counters when in use. It's frustrating!
  5. Anne
    Just a reminder to everyone: if you need advice about a specific situation, please post about it in the forums rather than here. The comments section is for comments, but questions are more likely to get replies in the forums themselves:
    http://www.thecatsite.com/f/5/behavior
  6. nasty cat
    Nothing works for my cat. He's on every horizontal surface in my house. He has his own multiple level tree. His latest is to pull the rubber ring AND metal cap off the disposal and play with them on the floor. I've tried everything suggested but nothing works. I say NO, firmly, he bites me and draws blood. I'm 83, love him like a child but I'm at my wits end. He's nine months and eleven pounds. I do not like cats on my counters. I'm a clean freak. HELP!!!
      NiColette&Jojo purraised this.
  7. simbamowgli
    I slapped some wax paper onto the counters. Mowgli loves to jump up, he's a slender guy, but we simply can't have him jumping onto the counters! Now, the wax paper really helps. Every time he jumps, a loud crinkly sound occurs and he gets frightnened and jumps off. Try it! :)
  8. neko0takusan
    Our Tuxedo just started jumping up on the counter recently.  Then she purposely knocks something off on the floor with her paw.  All to get my attention.  She is clever and gets bored easily...an attention hoar...I say no and she gets her attention....I've given in. hehe
  9. kansasguest
    Well, how do you get the cat to stop getting on counters when you ARE cooking without using a spray bottle?  The sticky tape method isn't appropriate when when we're using the counters for meal prep, etc.  Our 8-month old cat can now jump straight from the floor to our kitchen counter tops.  He's become a powerful jumper because we have a 2 story house & he uses the stairs for exercise.  He also LIKES clutter.  It's like hunting for him, to see what is under everything.  I use the sticky tape for our upholstered furniture, and it works great.  But, the directions say clearly that it will damage wood, leather & hard surfaces (like kitchen counters).  The little stinker is smart & persistent.  He figured out that we use the sink to wash dishes with food on them.  So, we've even caught him sticking his nose down the garbage disposal after everything is cleaned up to try & score a few pieces of food.  It's not like he's starving.  He's well-fed.  We put the sink stopper on, wipe everything down & he still counter surfs.  Grrr...
  10. ettina
    I wonder if putting a toy piano there would work? My cats hate jumping on the keys of my piano, because they don't like when their footsteps make noise.
    1. dallasstorm
      They say to praise your cat. So my suggestion is when you are cooking to remove him from the counter and tell him NO firmly and put him where he should be and tell him good kitty and pet him. That is what I was told to do. It may take some time, but as with a kid you have to do it each time and they will learn.
  11. kaos8
    Honestly, the "(Name) and NO" in my "satan Mommy Voice" works for all other issues..
  12. kaos8
    Oh, and I forgot to mention- I actually purchased these plastic things with the little spikes on them (kind of pricey) and I also used upside down floor runners...And my cats loved them- apparently, it felt good on their feet and to rub and sleep on.  Maybe I just have CRAZY Cats!
  13. kaos8
    I have only 2 cats of my "herd" that insist on being on the kitchen counters.  One does it, because he thinks he is going to get treats- when I am making my medicine concoctions for my one dog.  The other, who incidentally is his sister, Celine- sneaks up there and pees on my glass top stove, the counters- but never when we are watching...She is very sneaky. I have to tell you I have tried all the things mentioned in this article.  The Tin Foil - it is cheap and I tried this first.  My cats love to play with it- so, obviously this did not work.  Have used the Double sided tape (my own and the stuff you can buy- worked- but unfortunately was really heavy duty and could not use the counter or stove with it there) The stuff I sticky tape bought was one time use stuff and kind of expensive when purchased (was only 3 of the XL Sheets for like $20).  The next thing I tried was the SSSCat- this is awsome.  Is an air can that goes off by movement....  Only problem is that my cats seem to gang up on it, and hit if from every angle to see where it won't get them...So, then she pee'd just outside the can spray area- just off to the side of it...  This works great in a door way- if you need them out of a room, but if you have a larger area- this is a very costly way to fix the problem.  So for my counters the only solution that worked was CLUTTER...Looks horrible and I have to do major cleaning before anyone comes to the house, but really embarrassing to explain that I have to do it- or one kitty pees there!  So CLUTTER it is...and SSSCAT for my one doorway to a room they need to be out of. (incidentally- have a 6ft tall wrought iron gate in this doorway- that only one cat can jump/clear- totally put up to keep cats out and SSSCAT is the only thing that works)...
  14. jasei santiz
    great ima try this with cheetos he's an avid jumper lol
  15. pawpurrints
    Awesome....I'm already at that stage where my cute ones keep hopping on the table during dinner. I'll start hunting for a carpet runner!
  16. sadie66
    Hi, first i wouldn't spray them, my granddaughters cat tigger use to do that, so everytime i saw him i firmly told him no, then i put things in the way for a while so he would get the hint, and also if you wipe the area with vinegar water daily it works he finally got the hint and then i could remove the items in the counter but still to reinforce the training when in kitchen glances at counters i say no tigger, and of course always keep counter clean of food that may be the problem they want what smells good
  17. newkittyowner
    I tired this today after reading this article and it worked for our garbage can lid. The garbage happens to be right next to our kitchen counter and it's a great step for them to jump up on and then to the counter. The jump onto in now, feel the sticky tap and then jump back down. We have a lot of surface area in our kitchen so it's hard to do this on all the surfaces. What concerns me is when they jump onto the stove! Luckily the times they have we have been there to stop them from getting burned! I might have to get some of those carpet runners for the counter tops.
  18. nullentropy
    I tried the sticky tape, and it did nothing except ruin my counters! I'm kind of at a loss. They eat tinfoil and aren't bothered by sticky tape.
  19. dianec
    As i've always had cats they seem to follow the behaviour of whoever was there first - The first cat i had to teach was simply with a rolled up newspaper - i banged it on the counter near to him everytime he got up there only needed to do it once or twice and he stopped even trying. Cat do seem to copy each other.
  20. Anne
    I'm glad this is helpful! Please do start a thread in the behavior forum when you start the training process!
  21. chloeg
    thanx for a great article.Im having this problem ,but just waiting to get more vertical space before implementing your tips.
  22. mservant
    This sounds great, makes total sense. Might try on one or two high shelves I've got that Mouse is trying to get on to but not made yet. I think I've missed the boat on everything else with him but if I have to have a next time - result :)
  23. Anne
    Thank you for sharing your experience with us!
  24. taxido
    Double sided sticky tape works a treat. I have a large aquarium, always very tempting to cats. It is always covered with double sided sticky tape. Once a cat sticks to it, they never try the same thing again. A simple, cheap deterrent.
      NiColette&Jojo purraised this.
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