Counter Conditioning

Tips for keeping your cat off the kitchen counter.


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It’s understandable that cats like to jump onto kitchen counters; our pets enjoy high places. And while not everybody minds it, some people don’t like their pet jumping up on surfaces where food is prepared. But how can you stop it? The Animal Humane Society ( has some tips.

1|Make counters undesirable. It’s not just the height cats find appealing. It’s the food, so keep counters clear of food at all times you’re not putting a meal together. Also, buy several plastic placemats. Cover one side with double-sided tape, and keep them on your prep surfaces when they aren’t in use. Cats don’t like sticky surfaces, so when your pet jumps on the counter, he’ll feel an unpleasant sensation and jump down. If several weeks have passed without your cat climbing on counters, remove one placemat a day until the counter is clear. Should your cat start up again, put the placemats back down until he finally gets the hang of it.

2| Keep your cat confined during mealtime. If your cat won’t stay off the counter while you’re assembling meals, put him in a cat-proof room with bedding, toys, water, and a litter box while you cook. Let him out as soon as the meal’s over. The point is not to punish him, just to cook and eat your food in peace.

3| Never yell at your cat. Yelling and other punishments won’t work. At best he’ll appreciate the extra attention without refraining from the offending behavior. At worst he’ll become frightened; he won’t be able to make the connection between your temper and his actions. He’ll just think you’re angry for no reason. The anxiety might prompt him to urinate outside his litter box or even start biting.

4| Do reward your cat for appropriate behavior. Make staying off the counter desirable for the cat by providing food toys for him to wrestle with while you’re cooking and by giving him good, loving attention when he generally behaves the way you want. That is, emphasize what he is doing right rather than focusing on what he is doing wrong.

5| Don’t make perfection the enemy of progress. Perhaps your cat is bent on getting onto the kitchen counters no matter what steps you take. Ask yourself, “How can I live with this?” Maybe the answer is in being extra careful to clean your kitchen surfaces once the cat has been on them and to be vigilant about keeping food off the counters when you’re not making a meal. At least that way, your food prep will remain hygienic and your cat will be a little less enticed to go where you don’t want him to.


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