How can I train my cats to stay off tables and stop counter surfing? We’ve tried the motion sensor on a can of compressed air and a shocker pad. They still find ways to get on tables and
counters (e.g. pussyfooting around the shocker pad). We’re careful not to leave food, toys, or anything else interesting on the tables.
They’re good about staying down when we’re home, but as soon as we walk out the door it’s game on.
Thanks for your help!
San Diego, CA
Humans are so silly. We basically live in two dimensions. We think in terms of right, left, forward and backward. Up and down rarely enter our minds. Heck, most of us can’t even manage a vertical jump that is one third of our body length.
Cats are not so restricted. Up and down are important to them. Cats that fail to patrol counters, tables, window sills and shelves do not (in their minds) properly monitor their territory.
Your cats have learned that it annoys their two-legged servants when they roam the counters in your presence. In the interest of household harmony they humor you by staying on the floor when you’re home.
You can employ several tricks to try to keep cats off of counters. The key word is try.
The most important thing is to eliminate attractive nuisances. Don’t keep food, plants, or other desirable objects on the counters. The same goes for fragile items. You have done this already.
Old school behaviorists recommend covering counters with aluminum foil or double stick tape. Cats supposedly abhor the texture of these substrates. In my experience this tactic does little to discourage cats from roaming the counters. It does, however, make your counters unusable.
Older-than-old school behaviorists recommend setting dozens of mouse traps upside down on the counter. When a cat jumps on the counter the mouse traps are triggered, making loud noises and scaring the cat–or breaking its toes if the traps aren’t triggered just right. I don’t know whether anyone has had poor enough judgement to use this tactic in the last 20 years.
You could try being creative. How about hooking up an infrared motion sensor to the most fearsome and dangerous enemy any cat ever had: the vacuum cleaner?
Or you could try being practical. I have found that the best way to keep cats off of kitchen counters is to lock them out of the kitchen.