- Getting up high is a natural feline behavior that enables cats to survey their territory and feel safe.
- Other reasons cats might jump onto counters include to obtain food, look out a window, get attention, find something to play with, hide, or avoid a dog, toddler, or another cat.
- High spaces that cats consider acceptable or desirable need to be in places that are interesting to them and/or where they feel safe—which, depending on the circumstances, may mean near you.
- Punishing counter surfing when you see it happen will not prevent your cat from jumping onto the counter when you are absent and can risk harming your relationship with him by creating a lack of trust and/or causing him to feel unsafe in your presence.
- If the cat is getting on the counter to access a window, cover the window with a temporary blind or window film.
- Don’t leave food or dirty dishes unattended on the counter—it is unfair and unrealistic to expect any animal to pass up food or items that smell like food.
- Also avoid leaving treats, toys, and other enticing items on the counter or stored in above-counter cabinets.
These management techniques and the behavior modification skills outlined below must be implemented simultaneously.
Behavior Modification Skills
- Be sure to provide an alternative location that fulfills the cat’s reasons for counter surfing. For example, if he is jumping on the counter to access a particular window, offer a nearby hangout perch for him that is in front of a different window. This could be a cat tree, a bar stool, or a shelf on the wall.
- Make the hangout perch very appealing by adding a cat bed or hidey-hole to it and sprinkling it with catnip or silvervine.
- Teach the cat to go to his acceptable perch by luring him there with a treat or toy.
- Verbally praise and reward him with attention and treats for hanging out on his perch. Make sure you use a reward that is attractive and desirable to the individual cat. This is known as a reinforcer, i.e. it strengthens the behavior.
- Occasionally offer treats when he is on his perch, just for being there. This is known as a variable reinforcement schedule.
- Feed the cat his meals on his perch.
- When your cat is on the kitchen counter, simply call him to his perch, where you can praise and reward him. Use a lure, as necessary.
- You can also clicker train your cat to stay off the counter and reinforce him for going to his perch, a mat, or the floor (see Clicker Training for Cats, BARKS from the Guild, November 2017, pp.16-23).
- Cat perch, bar stool, or shelf.
- Treats, cat toys, and catnip and/or silver vine.
- Target stick.
- To teach new behavior: approximately 1-4 weeks. (Note: this will vary for each individual cat and may take more – or less time – than this, which is intended as a guideline only).
- Maintenance: it is important to keep up your variable reinforcement schedule for use of the alternative perching location to establish and maintain the desired behavior long-term.
Every cat is an individual, and behavior is complex. If you need help training your cat, please seek out a qualified feline behavior professional.
© 2019 The Pet Professional Guild Feline Committee