How to train your cat to stay off the counter

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By Emily Bruer

If you’ve ever had a cat you likely have had to deal with them jumping on the counters. While this may not particularly bother you, it can be annoying and (let’s be honest) unsanitary.

There are lots of theories about the best way to go about this, but many can actually damage the relationship between you and your feline friend. Follow the steps in this article and you can train your cat without breaking your bond!

Why is the counter so darned attractive, anyway?

Let’s start with the reasons behind why your cat wants to be on the counter in the first place.

Most cats are social animals and they enjoy the company of their two legged companions. What’s the best way for them to be near you while you’re in the kitchen?

That’s right, to jump on the counter, this puts them up high and closer to your eye level where they can easily get your attention and socialize with you.

The second reason is that cats enjoy being up high, where they can watch out for predators (or the family dog) and to hunt for prey (or treats). While our feline roommates don’t need to be on high alert for predators or prey anymore, they’re hardwired to like high places.

Now, for the training

While our cats may be our fur-kids, they don’t understand our social etiquette and it’s our job to teach them in a way they can understand.

Buy your cat a tree to climb on – Not just any old tree, of course, but a specially made cat tree.

You can pick one up at just about any bricks and mortar or online retailer. You want to make sure the tree you pick has several different perches at a few different heights, especially if you have a multi-cat home. Keep in mind that some cats prefer perches with a horizontal spread, while others like high vertical towers. 

Food training – Once you have the tree all set up, you can begin training your cat. Many cats will simply prefer their tree to the counter, so you may not need to do any training at all. But if you find your kitty is still counter surfing, it’s time to get out the treats.

Cats can be finicky eaters, so you may have to try a few different high value treats before you find one she likes. My cat’s favorites are turkey, tuna, and sardines.

Start giving your kitty treats any time she is on her cat tree while you are in the kitchen. This will cause her to begin associating her cat tree with the yummy treats you are providing!

Any time you catch her on the counter gently pick her up and place her on the floor and then ignore her until she jumps on the tree.

Eventually she will begin to understand that when she jumps on the counter you remove her and ignore her, but when she jumps on the cat tree she gets lots of love and yummy snacks.

If that doesn’t work – If you have been trying this method for a few weeks and still haven’t noticed a marked improvement, the next step would be to add something the kitty doesn’t like to the counter – double sided tape.

Line the edges of the counter and places she likes to sit with double sided tape. The feeling of the tape on her paws will be uncomfortable and she will eventually get the idea that it’s not fun to sit on the counter.

This method of training is a great one for kitties, as the harsher ones (like squirt bottles) can cause fear and negative associations with you. Creating fear in cats is the last thing you want to do, as in extreme cases it can cause aggression and urinating outside of the litter box. (It’s also not a very nice thing to do to your little buddy.)

So stick with these tips, because with the right tools and some yummy treats even the most stubborn cat can learn to leave the counters to the humans and hang out on her tree!

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emily-bruer-pawedinEmily has been penning the adventures of her imagination since she was old enough to hold a pencil. Working at animal shelters for the last five years she learned an incredible amount about animal care and behavior. She is currently employed at a vet clinic where she continues her animal education. Emily’s love of animals is evident when you step into her home, which she shares with six dogs and six cats, all of whom were rescues.

It’s tough to practice what you preach

Chester is a champion sleeper.
Chester is a champion sleeper.

By Bill Mayeroff

If I’ve learned nothing else in my time as a FetchFind Academy student, it’s that consistence is paramount in dog training. If you’re not consistent with the rules, your dog will never learn them.

While I’ve extolled the virtues and advantages of consistence when people have asked me questions about dog behavior, it’s quite another thing to put that consistence into practice with your own dog. But it’s something I’ve recently had to learn to do. And I can tell you, it’s not easy.

Not long ago, my dog Chester had his annual leptospirosis booster shot. That night, he didn’t eat his dinner. He didn’t eat his breakfast the next morning. I wasn’t tremendously concerned, honestly. I’d read that the lepto shot can cause upset stomach and decreased appetite for about a day. So skipping two meals didn’t worry me.

But when he didn’t eat dinner that night or breakfast the following morning, I got a bit concerned. Chester’s always loved eating, so this new behavior was a bit alarming. But he wasn’t acting sick. He was eating treats, going to the bathroom normally, he had his energy. He just wasn’t eating his dry food.

So I did what I thought was the right thing – I decided to try something new.

And that was my mistake.

He ate the new food I got him for dinner that night. He really seemed to like it. So I tried it again the following morning. He ate about half of it and then stopped. Refused to take another bite. But again, through the course of the day, he ate treats normally. He drank plenty of water. He clearly wasn’t sick.

So that night, I made another mistake – I tried yet another food. And guess what? He ate it. So once again, I gave him the new food the following morning and this time, he didn’t touch it. Same thing at dinner.

Now I was really getting concerned. So I left a message for his vet and the next morning (after again not eating his breakfast), I took him to her. She examined him and told me that medically, he seemed fine (and had, in fact, GAINED weight). And then she said something I hadn’t thought of, though with my training, I probably should have.

She told me she thought his not eating was behavioral. And that I had most likely reinforced it.

By giving him new food when he wasn’t eating, I had inadvertently taught him that by not eating, he’d get some new and exciting food. The solution, she said, was tough love. If he doesn’t eat his regular food, he doesn’t eat. She also told me not to give him any treats or extra things because he needed to be hungry enough to make the choice to eat what I put in front of him.

It wouldn’t be easy, she said. She told me she’d seen healthy dogs be stubborn enough to go up to five days before eating. And with Chester being a healthy dog, she said she was comfortable with letting him go that long if that’s what it took and as long as he was drinking water and otherwise acting normally. If he didn’t eat in that time, she said, I’d bring him back to her.

As I write this, it’s day two of not eating. Chester seems fine. He’s still acting normally, drinking water and using the bathroom. This whole tough love thing seems to be tougher on me than on him. I just want to throw treats at him, do whatever I have to to get him to eat. But I have to turn on my trainer brain. I created a bad behavior in my dog and now I have to fix it. 

By the way, in case you’re concerned about what happens if he doesn’t eat within five days, the vet did offer a secondary theory. If I bring him back, she said, she’s going to test his thyroid (among a few other things), as a messed up thyroid can cause a dog to gain weight while still decreasing appetite. 

Anyway, my point is this: No matter how much you study, no matter how much you think you know about dogs and how they operate, when it comes to applying those things to your own dog, it’s hard. 

And there’s no shame in that. 

Even trainers get emotional and worried when it comes to their own dogs and that can keep us from applying what we know in the ways we might tell other people to apply it to their dogs. So don’t worry. Whether you’re a trainer or just a novice dog owner, when it comes to training your dog, at some point, you’re going to screw up. 

And as long as you learn from it, that’s ok. 

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Look at these two handsome gents.

After five years as a newspaper reporter in western Illinois and two more as a freelancer in Chicago, Bill’s life has gone to the dogs in the best way possible. These days, Bill lives in Chicago with his terrier mix, Chester, and works at a small, no-kill animal shelter while he studies to be a professional dog trainer at FetchFind Academy. Bill also blogs about his two favorite things – dogs and beer – at Pints and Pups.