Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I need help. I have tried everything to keep our kittens off the counter and table and nothing is working. I’m really frustrated. Do you have any advice?
Thomas: Well, Margie, you could be like Mama and say that counter surfing is just a thing cats do, and try not to get frustrated about it.
Bella: But that’s not the point, Thomas! Some humans (okay, a LOT of humans) don’t like it when their cats get on the counter!
Tara: But I like the counter. What if I want to stay on it?
Bella: Tara! We’re trying to help Margie keep her cats from counter surfing, not tell her to accept something she doesn’t want!
Thomas: Okay, Bella, you’re right. Let’s get busy trying to help Margie–and any other humans frustrated by their cats’ counter surfing–put a stop to it.
Bella: First of all, Margie, you need to understand why cats want to get on the counter. There are two main reasons: tempting smells, and the desire to be in high places.
Tara: You see, we cats view our territory in three dimensions, and elevation is a really important way to expand our territory.
Thomas: And help us avoid bad interactions with dogs and other cats (and grabby toddlers, heh heh heh).
Bella: The good news is that if you don’t want to have a counter cruising cat, there are things you can do to put a stop to it. They’re going to take some time to have an effect, though, so you’ll need to be patient.
Tara: The first thing you’ll need to do, Margie, is to make sure there are no tempting tastes and smells on your counters and table when you’re not there. This will help to remove one factor in your cat’s desire to counter surf. But that alone won’t solve the problem.
Thomas: Mama always removes the tempting tastes and smells, but we still like the counters.
Tara: But in our house, the counter is usually just a stop on the way to the tops of the cabinets, because those are really high and we love the view from there.
Bella: Speaking of high places, one of the most important things you can do is make sure your cat has enough vertical space in the form of cat trees and window perches.
Thomas: Like celebrity cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy says, “for every no, provide a yes.”
Tara: So, Margie, if you don’t have nice, tall cat trees in your home, you might consider getting one or more–depending on how many you can fit in your house.
Thomas: And you’ll want to make sure those cat trees are in attractive locations: near windows, and kind of in the middle of the action. You don’t want to shove the thing way off in a corner where your cat has no stimulation that would allow her to be happy in her tree.
Bella: Now, to address some of the things you can do to make it less desirable for your cat to get on engage in that darn counter surfing behavior!
Tara: The first thing you’ll want to do is whenever you see your cat on the counter or table, simply put her on the floor. Don’t interact with her in any other way–no kisses, no pets on the head, nothing that would tell her that getting on the counter is going to provide positive feedback.
Thomas: But what about when you’re not in the room, or you’re not home? You know your cat will probably get on the counters and the table when you’re not there to tell her “no,” so what do you do about that?
Bella: One simple trick is to buy some plastic carpet protectors at your local furniture store. Get the kind that has little nubbly feet to grab the carpet underneath.
Tara: Now, what you’ll want to do is to cut the carpet protectors so they fit on your counter and table. Place the carpet protectors with the little feet pointing up, so that it’ll be uncomfortable for your cat to walk and sit on those surfaces.
Thomas: Put those carpet protectors on the counter and table whenever you’re not using them.
Bella: That means all the time, even when you have guests over. We know they’re not beautiful, but it’s important that you keep them there.
Tara: You see, we cats are very persistent, and if the deterrent is missing even once, you’ll set back the training to the beginning.
Thomas: Once you’ve got the deterrents in place–and remember, you’ll need to have alternative places where your cat can be up high–you’ll be passively training your cat to avoid these areas.
Bella: Another thing you could do is to have a medium-height cat tree near your counter or table and do some clicker training. Target the cat tree and click and treat every time your cat gets on the cat tree rather than the counter.
Tara: Here are a couple of books on clicker training that could be a big help in your efforts. First, Naughty No More by Marilyn Krieger deals specifically with retraining unwanted behaviors with the click-and-treat system.
Thomas: And then there’s the original book on clicker training for cats, written by Karen Pryor. You can get her book and a whole clicker training kit that will include everything you need to start training your cat.
Bella: We’re sure that with patience, persistence, and training, you’ll be able to get your cat to stop counter surfing for good!
Tara: What about you other readers? Have you been able to stop your cat from counter surfing? Have you clicker trained your cat for this or any other reasons? Please let us know in the comments!