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 Counter-Hopping - Stop, No Need To Shock!

Counter-hopping is a frequently reported nuisance behavior in households with cats. Many people try using a squirt bottle for this problem. This is ineffective as it only works when you are there to use it. Even if the cat doesn’t see you squirt them they will realize that when they jump on the counter when you’re not there, nothing happens. The result is a cat that is all over your counters, but only when you’re not at home. Electric static mats should never be used to deter counter hopping. They cause pain and frighten the cat, and, more importantly, they do not provide an acceptable alternative to satisfy the cat’s need to be up high or teach the cat what he should be doing instead. 

Here are the positive ways you can end this problem:

First, consider the reasons cats want to get on the counter. These may include to obtain food, to get to a window, to get on a higher surface from which to survey their territory, to feel safe, to get attention, to find something to play with, or to find something to knock off the counter! They may even jump on the counter because they want to be out of reach of a dog, a toddler or another cat that they have a tense relationship with.

Training to stay off the counter: A Three-Step Process

The three steps in this process need to be applied simultaneously:

1.     Provide alternative vertical space of equal or greater value to the cat in the same area as your counters. Make it very appealing by adding a cat bed or hidey-hole and sprinkling silver vine and treats for him to find.
2.     Make the off-limits surfaces less appealing. You can do this by removing anything that may be tempting to the cat, such as food, dirty dishes, treats and toys. If your cat wants to get to a window, you can cover the window with a temporary blind or window film. At the same time, provide a perch in front of a nearby window and reinforce the cat for using it.

You can also use mild deterrents. You can put cardboard or placemats covered in Sticky Paws double-sided tape across the counter surface, or use upside down vinyl carpet runners with the nubbed side up. Both of these provide an unappealing and uncomfortable surface for cats to land on, discouraging them from spending time on that surface.

Many cats dislike the scent of citrus. You can use citrus room deodorizers, potpourri, or items that you have scented with lemon essential oil.

It won’t take many experiences on a surface that is uncomfortable for the cat in one way or another before the cat learns that it’s just not worth jumping up the counter.

Each of these deterrents is benign and does not hurt the cat. They are also remote, which means a human does not need to be present to deliver them, so there’s no risk of harming your relationship with the cat.

3.     Positively reinforce the cat when he uses the alternative spaces provided (cat tree, window perch, etc.). Give treats, catnip, silver vine, verbal praise, affection, brushing, play, etc., on the new space provided.

Clicker Training
  • Training alternate behaviors is an effective approach to resolving counter hopping. Yes, you can train a cat! Nose targeting is one of the easiest behaviors to teach a cat. The target can be used to direct the cat to jump down off the counter.

Cats use their noses to check out any newly presented object and you can use a tongue depressor, a chopstick, your finger or a target stick as the target. Just like training a dog, you can simply use the object, or if necessary rub some yummy food on it as an enticement. You shouldn’t use the enticement to the target more than 2-3 times to at the start of training—get rid of it quickly! As your cat gets the hang of touching her nose to the target, you can begin to move it a bit so she has to move around to reach it.

The key to target training for this problem is to reward the cat frequently during early training (with treats and play) when he or she follows the target and gets off the counter. Not being on the counter (and being on the acceptable alternative provided) needs to be more rewarding and interesting than being on it!

As with any troublesome behavior problem, be sure to contact a certified cat behavior consultant should you need help.

For more information about the negative effects of using shock in animal training, refer to PPG’s position statement

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