Ways Not to Modify Your Cat’s Behavior

Certain methods are not only useless for teaching. They can also 
damage your bond with your pet.


You can’t keep your cat from jumping on the counter, but you can get him to jump back down by spraying him with a water pistol. Still, we advise against it. It’s an aversive tactic that involves physical punishment. Not only will it fail to teach your cat what you expect of him, it will probably also make your pet distrust you and feel unsafe in his own home. Bear in mind that he has no idea why you’re punishing him for jumping up onto a counter, which for him is the most natural thing in the world to do. Moreover, your pet doesn’t understand why it’s okay for him to jump up onto a bookshelf but not the kitchen counter.

Other aversive tactics for getting your cat off the counter — or away from the expensive slipcovers he’s scratching: forcefully putting your arms around him and angrily placing him on the floor; pushing him; and yelling at him. Such actions might get you want you want in the moment, but they will do long-term damage to your bond. Would you trust someone who man-handled you, yelled at you, sprayed you with water, or shoved you every time you did something they didn’t like but could never figure out what you were getting wrong? Add to that the fact that a cat is about a twentieth of our size. It’s such an unfair fight.

So what can you do?

A better option than punishing your cat for his infraction is to find ways to make him less likely to engage in the behavior you don’t like.

Make the spot less enticing. This can be done by creating many other places for your cat to do whatever it is he’s doing that gets your goat. If he likes jumping, provide plenty of other places that he can jump up to without upsetting you. If he likes scratching, provide more scratching posts.

Pay more attention to your cat. People think dogs want attention and cats don’t, but that’s not true. Cats want to interact with you as well, and if you don’t spend enough time with your pet, he may do something he knows you don’t like as a way of getting you to engage with him. In some cases, unpleasant attention may be better than no attention at all.

Use clicker training. You can teach your cat to get off a surface on cue. Cats usually find positive reinforcement training fun. Here’s how to do it. Get a clicker and a feather. Use the feather to get your cat’s attention. Once you have it, use the clicker while saying something like “Off.” When your cat jumps down, reward him with a food treat. “It’s fun to train cats,” says the head of the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic, Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM. “They are good learners.” Even better, she says, “they really enjoy it.”


  1. Uh, no. If you do what is described above, you will teach your cat to jump onto the counter to trigger the treat-getting. He will turn jumping onto the counter into a vending machine. Guess how I know.

  2. We’ve used an inexpensive (from Harbor Freight) motion sensor unit with an alarm chime to train the cats not to climb on a particular surface. They learn quickly not to go to those places (we provide plenty of high alternative spaces for them to explore). After a short time we can remove the unit, to be saved for any future issues (we do rescue, rehab, foster and adoption for strays and ferals, so our numbers and cats’ personalities change).


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here