Pawprints on The Counter

The house is quiet. No one seems to be doing anything interesting, so the cat walks into the kitchen and looks around. Nothing much happening on ground level, so in one graceful leap, he lands on the counter. Suddenly, out of nowhere comes his owner, yelling, charging, aiming a squirt bottle in his direction, and then blasting water in his face. Panic-stricken, the soaking wet cat scrambles off the counter, runs through the house and dives under the bed. There the terrified cat stays for the next hour. His owner replaces the squirt bottle on the shelf and goes back to watching TV in the den. What the owner is thinking: I'll train that cat yet! What the cat is thinking: My owner's a lunatic! The bottom line: This training method stinks.

The best way to keep your cat off the counter, table or whatever furniture you decide should be forbidden is to go back to two of the three approaches I mentioned in the beginning of this chapter: remote control and redirection. Don't forget to also be consistent about which areas are to be off limits to kitty. Don't confuse him by allowing him to be on the table or counter as long as you're not eating but forbidding him when there's food. He won't understand the difference, and it's not fair to expect him to.

I prefer to use low-stress, quiet devices for remote-control deterrents. My method is to get several inexpensive plastic place mats from the discount store and place several strips of either double-faced masking tape or Sticky Paws (available in pet supply stores or through mail order) over them. Cover the counter with the place mats. The taped place mats will make the surface unattractive, and the first time your cat jumps on the counter he'll immediately jump down. Keep the place mats on the counter or any surface you don't want the cat on. Remove them only when you need access to the surface, then immediately replace them when you're through. Eventually, your cat will decide that the counter isn't such a great place after all. Don't be too quick to remove the place mats permanently. A few more days of inconvenience are worth it to end up with a well-trained cat. When you do begin removing the mats, do it one at a time over the course of several days.

Another way to keep the cat off the counter is to put a few pennies inside empty soda cans (tape over the opening), then line the cans up along the edge of the counter. When he jumps up, he'll knock them over and be startled. I prefer the place mat method over the cans for two reasons. Once the cans are knocked over and hit the floor, the counter becomes very attractive again, whereas the place mats remain there. The other reason I don't like the cans is that if you have more than one pet, the noise scares not only the guilty cat but the innocent pet as well. What if one cat is innocently using his scratching post or litter box when he suddenly hears a clatter of cans? You want to direct the training at the cat who needs it. I also dislike using balloons for the same reason. The sound of a popping balloon scares me; I can imagine how frightening it is for a little cat.

Now let's suppose you're in the kitchen working on dinner, so the place mats are off the counter. You notice your cat getting ready to jump up. What do you do? This is where a quick squirt of plain water from a squirt bottle comes in. Use a small plant mister with the nozzle adjusted to produce a stream instead of a mist. That way, you can direct the water right at the cat and not all over the counter. A stream is more effective anyway, because a cat with a thick coat may not even feel mist. You have to be fast, so keep your bottle loaded and on the counter. The secret to making this a modified version of remote-control training is to be sure the cat doesn't see that the squirt came from you. Be as sneaky as you can. If you can't be out of sight, try to be as inconspicuous as possible. Just a quick squirt directed at the cat's fanny should do it. If you try to squirt him in the face, there's a good chance he'll see you. Also, it's not a good idea to get water in a cat's nose or eyes.

A squirt bottle isn't a good idea if there is fine furniture around or in any area that shouldn't get wet. There you can use a compressed-air canister. It's very important that you only spray at the cat's fanny and never at his face or near his ears.

If you find your cat on a surface that doesn't have the place mats on it and your squirt bottle or air canister isn't around, just pick him up, say "no" (don't yell or scream, just a firm "no") and place him on the floor. Don't knock him off the furniture or drop him on the floor. On the other hand, don't pick him up, kiss him, cuddle him, and then place him on the floor. Use your good judgment -- I know you have that because you decided to become a cat owner in the first place.

Now comes the redirection part of the training. Cats like elevated places, so provide an alternative such as a cat tree. My cats aren't allowed on the counters, but there's a cat tree for them in the kitchen by the window. They get to be up high, and I don't have to explain to my guests why there's cat hair in the cheese dip.

About the author:
Pam Johnson-Bennett began her career when her own problem cat was labeled hopeless by the vet. After successfully treating her own cat, as well as hundreds of other "hopeless" pets, she became a veterinary technician and the award-winning author of four books on cats. She's now a popular guest on national TV and radio, writes regularly for three major cat magazines and runs a private vet-referred counseling practice in Tennessee.

Do you have a question for this feline-friendly expert? Visit the Think Like a Cat message board and find a solution.

Excerpt from Think Like a Cat: How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat NOT a Sour Puss used by permission of Penguin Putnam Inc.

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