Training Cats to Stay Off Counters – Simple Strategies

If your cat is anything like either of mine, or any of the multiple cats that we’ve fostered in the past couple of years, and I’m guessing they are, then they love to get up on your counters. Or as the cool cats say, they love to go counter surfing. They jump up, wander around, sniff a bit, track litter all over, eat things they shouldn’t, leave a trail of fur all over the place and in general cause all sorts of mischief! While it would be nice if we could just tell our cats to stay off the high spots or the specific spots we don’t want them climbing on…it doesn’t quite work like that does it?  Even if you can keep them off the surface while you are at home you’ll still find evidence that they were up there while you weren’t home. Sneaky little beasts aren’t they! So how do you go about training cats to stay off counters or any other surface you might not want them on? Let’s first discuss why they like being up high…


Why Do Cats Like High Places?

Cats love getting in high spots for a variety of reasons.  In short though, it is genetic. Cats like high places because historically it helped make sure they stayed alive.  Two key reasons for this are:

Cats Like High Places

Safety: When a cat is up in a high place it is less likely to attacked by land based predators bigger than it. These days you can think of that as a dog, but historically there were all sorts of animals that would attempt to kill and eat a cat. Being up in a tree was a form of safety.

Birds Eye View: Having a perch to look down from also gave cats an advantage when looking for and attacking prey.  They didn’t necessarily pounce on prey from the top of a tree, but they could easily spot prey moving below and then position themselves accordingly for a good butt wiggle in advance of a jump.

As you can see this behavior is instinctual, it helped ensure your cat’s ancestors survived to give birth to cute little kittens. So now you know, your cat naturally migrates and explores high places because it is in their blood. Great you say, how the heck does that help me?


Cats Need a High Place to Call Their Own

If your cat naturally seeks high places then it is going to be extremely difficult for you to break them of this behavior, it is basically ingrained into them.  Given this, as opposed to simply stopping them from going high places you’ll need to locate a high place or two that you’re ok with your cat going!  There are lots of different places you can use to give your cat his or her height fix. You can use window sills, book cases, cupboards or whatever else is already around your house that you’re ok with your cat getting on top of.

A cat in a cat castleIf you don’t want your cat on any of of your current furniture then that’s a bit of a different concern!  If this is the situation you are in then you should consider some sort of cat some ‘climbing equipment.’ No, I don’t mean a rope and harness, they lack the opposable things to climb like us humans anyway. I’m talking about things cats only dream of, the coveted Cat Castle, or the fluffy Window Bed that feels like sleeping on Cloud 9 while the sun shines down.  Other options include Climbing Shelves, Climbing Trees, Cat Trees & Cat Climbing Posts. I’ll be honest, all that is important is that it will let your cat get up somewhere high where they can look down on us humans (potentially in disdain depending on what we’ve done for them lately).

 

Beast cat in her window bed

Any of these options will suffice, but I find the least invasive for us is the window bed. You can see my cat Beast relaxing in it to the left.  We also do have a cat castle which our cat Lexi absolutely loves. I have no idea why, but she curls herself into a ball in the smallest possible part of the castle and goes to sleep. Cats right? Anyway, what’s important here is that they’ll need a place up high that you’re ok with them going and you should reward them for using that high place. Leave some treats on it every few days so they know that high place is for them and they are supposed to be there. This alone will help drive them toward spending time there, but how do we handle the other side of this problem?


So How Do I Keep Them Off Other High Places?

So once you have a spot that you’re ok with your cat going you can start working on keeping them off the places you don’t want them.  There are several different methods you can consider for this:

Stop cats climbing on table with packaging tape

  • Packaging Tape: It sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? But as you may know the little pads on the bottom of your cat’s feet are super duper sensitive and those pads don’t like a sticky feeling one bit.  You can flip over packaging tape so the sticky side is up and you can lay it in places you don’t want your cat to go. Cats have a hard time spotting the tape, their eyesight is much more geared toward tracking moving things (those hunting genetics at work again), so they’ll step on the step, not like it and not come back.
  • Aluminum Foil: Yes, I’m talking Reynold’s Wrap folks.  If you crinkle aluminum up just a bit so that the pattern is a bit uneven (don’t just unroll it and lay it down) then it makes noise when your cat steps on it. Cats apparently don’t like the feel or the sound this makes and thus are unlikely to come back.
  • stop cats climbing on your table with ssscatstop cats climbing on your table with ssscatSSSCAT Spray Deterrent: The SSSCat system is a pretty cool little gadget. Check out my full review here. In short though, it is a motion sensor combined with a compressed air sprayer. It basically detects when your naughty little feline is where they aren’t supposed to be and blows a jet of compressed air at them which startles them and they’ll stay away for a while.
  • Spray Bottles & the Change in a Can: Both of these are also options, see my post on How to Stop Cats Scratching Furniture for the full details. The key concern is they don’t work at all when you’re not home. All 3 of these options work when you aren’t around which is when you need this most.

My personal recommendation, and what has worked the best for us from the free/super cheap department is the packaging tape. There are a few drawbacks here as well to consider though:

  • Sticks in Cat Fur: No surprise, it is tape after all. The tape, especially on our long haired cat Lexi, gets stuck and matted into her fur. Given this we leave lots of short pieces of tape around so they are less likely to cause a huge mess for her.  Even so we sometimes end up having to cut the tape out of her fur.
  • Space Usability: While there’s an obvious problem for the cat if the tape gets stuck, the other problem is that you have to move all the tape every time you want to use the space. This can be quite the hassle for the first few weeks of anti counter surfing training. It also tends to be rather wasteful as moving packaging tape without it sticking to itself is darn near impossible.

After a few weeks it won’t need to be out all that often, maybe once a month as a reminder in case they jump up…Because of the drawbacks of the tape we have put the SSSCAT to use as well. The SSSCAT has been quite successful for us, I think the key drawback of the SSSCAT is when I forget it is on and it scares the heck out of me in the middle of the night or right after work. Beyond that, replacing the air canisters over the long haul can get expensive, but it is the most hassle free of all of the methods outlined above in that it has zero cleanup and can be flipped on and off in seconds.


Wrapping It All Up:

So to close this up, let’s do a quick recap:

  • Cats instinctively seek out high places for safety and for hunting (watch that butt wiggle when they pounce!)
  • Cats need some high place to call their own, provide them one if you don’t have one you’re ok with them using
  • Cats can be deterred from other high places using a variety of measures including tape, aluminum foil & low tech gadgets
  • You’ll have to reinforce your cats behavior with treats in the good spots and the deterrents in the no go zones

If you have any other thoughts on keeping cats off of counters or other high places please leave a comment below or send me an email at Craig@StuffCatsWant.com so I can update this article.

StuffCatsWant.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

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11 thoughts on “Training Cats to Stay Off Counters – Simple Strategies

  • April 30, 2017 at 9:01 am
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    I am not at all a fan of the spray bottle/change in a can/any kind of punishment/scare tactic when training cats. In my experience it just doesn’t work. Cats are smarter than that, they know it’s YOU holding the spray bottle and they’ll likely just end up resenting of fearing you. I used double sided tape on the countertops and window screens when my fluffball and I moved into our new place and it worked a treat. Smart little critter he is, he only had to touch the tape once and knew not to go back there again!

    Reply
    • April 30, 2017 at 3:19 pm
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      That’s great. Mine require constant reinforcement over the long haul, but usually every encounter with the tape gives us a few weeks of total relief. Glad this method is working for you too!

      Reply
  • April 30, 2017 at 9:44 am
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    I can totally relate to this post, I have had cats that just won’t stay off the kitchen bench top, I love the idea of laying aluminium foil or the sticky tape down on surfaces, good thinking. Also a great idea to have their own high bed or window bed

    Reply
  • April 30, 2017 at 10:42 am
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    I agree that cats certainly love the high places, when our cats are inside, they have their own scratching posts and platforms they can rest on and we put old towels on the backs of our chairs as they sometimes like to go there.

    The thing with cats is they go to a place to rest and use it for awhile and they like to look for something else, it’s like they are bored with that and want something better.

    Thankfully that’s not a problem to us because we do let them outside where they can find a high spot in one of our trees or use the furniture on the patio.

    We don’t like them getting up on the kitchen counters and they rarely go up there which is good, so they’re pretty well behaved.

    Reply
    • April 30, 2017 at 3:18 pm
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      That’s great that you can let your cat out and they come right back in. I am in the city so letting mine out is kind of scary, too many threats for them at every turn!

      Reply
  • May 7, 2017 at 4:32 pm
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    Hi Craig,
    Very enjoyable and useful post. Every cat owner needs a few useful strategies for keeping their feline friend off of surfaces where they don’t belong. In addition to loving high spaces, they’re endlessly curious little critters. I appreciate the tip about SSSCat. There may be a bit more expensive during the training period, and subsequent reinforcement periods 🙂 ) but I like the no-fuss, no muss aspect. Thanks for the info!

    Reply
    • May 7, 2017 at 4:36 pm
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      Glad it was helpful for you! If you do decide to grab an SSSCat, one additional tip that I’ve recently run across is that as opposed to the SSSCat specific compressed air containers you can use pretty much any compressed air. This means you can buy generic or offbrand versions and it should save you quite a few dollars. I still have one can left on my traditional refills, but I’ll let you know what I find out on the generic ones after that!

      Reply
  • May 9, 2017 at 12:46 pm
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    Yeah I always see my friends cats leaping up onto counter tops and shelves. They then proceed to knock everything off of it, lol! I never realized that it was due to their genetics, but it makes a lot of sense the way that you explained it. So giving the a designated spot or two is a great idea! That way they don’t have to deny their natural tendencies.

    And who wouldn’t want a window bed! I always wanted one of those for myself when I was a kid!

    Reply
    • May 9, 2017 at 2:00 pm
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      I know right? Looks pretty sweet to sleep in a comfy bed in the sun…I don’t think the bed would hold me up though. Bummer.

      Reply
  • June 3, 2017 at 5:46 pm
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    Hey Craig,
    Nice post and very informative.
    We have two cats ourselves and both like to perch themselves on the highest places they can find, normally on top of the kitchen cupboards or the fridge.
    I must admit is frustrating when we’re trying to prepare food and they jump on the kitchen worktop, but the ideas you suggest about putting tape and/or foil on the surfaces sounds very interesting.
    I shall try it, thanks for the info.
    Cheers.

    Reply
    • June 3, 2017 at 11:30 pm
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      Definitely give the tape a shot, it keeps my cats off the counters for weeks at a time after they land on it once. Good luck!

      Reply

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