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Cat Training for "Top Cats"

How To Keep Cats Off Counters and Other Risky Heights


Cat training for "top cats" means purr-suading felines to stay off forbidden second-story areas. That's tough, because cats love to countertop cruise, and it can be challenging to purr-suade them otherwise.

Cats love to indulge in “gravity experiments.” Kittens especially methodically push items off high surfaces such as the mantel, just to see them fall and make loud noises when they hit the floor. Such prime cat entertainment only works from on high. My cat Seren enjoys cruising kitchen countertops, lounging dead center on the dining room table, perching on the television, and scaling the shelves of my office walk-in closet.

In other words, Seren is a normal cat.

Cats adore high places. However, owners have their own idea about proper feline lounging locations. Countertop cruising can be both a safety and a hygiene issue. Nobody enjoys having a pet “graze” from the dinner table. Even if you consider cat fur to be a condiment, walking across a hot stovetop may cause serious burns and a pricey veterinary bill.

Cats in High Places

Dealing with height-loving felines causes great frustration for owners. Even when Kitty understands that a particular location (the mantel) is forbidden, she may avoid the place when you’re present, but plant her furry tail on high as soon as you leave the room. When you return and she sees you, she’ll leap off even before you yell at her.

A couple of things are going on. Very literally, the cat that claims the highest position is the “top cat” in the scheme of feline hierarchy. Even the singleton cat who doesn't need to compete with other felines still wants to be able to see long distances, and be out of reach of potential threats. That's an inherited mindset your cat shares with her wild-cat ancestors.

Second, cats practice a time-share mentality. When the “top cat” is not there to use the preferred perch, the cat feels within her rights to claim it. After all, YOU weren’t using it! Then when you catch her in the forbidden zone, she acknowledges you as the top cat and gets off in deference to your social status.

Cat Training Tips--When You're Home

What can you do? Recognize you will NOT win all these battles. You cannot change instinct, but you can modify some of these irksome behaviors.

Encourage her to stay off forbidden places with training techniques. Is there a particular treat or toy she likes? Lure her off. Be careful, though, or she may learn that walking across the table gets you to open the treat jar.

You can use an interruption such as a loud “OFF!” or clapped hands to get her down. Some cats are dissuaded with the help of a long-distance squirt gun aimed at their backside. However, some cats like Seren enjoy being sprayed. Many cats quickly learn to hop off or simply avoid the countertop or table when you're home to enforce this rule (remember, that's the time-share at work).

Cat Training Tips--When You're Away

When you aren’t around, the cat will still use the perch unless it’s made unattractive. Basically, you need to make the forbidden areas so unappealing that the cat choose to avoid them on his own. Here are some techniques that may work, but every cat is different, so you'll need to experiment to see waht works best.

  • Cover stovetops with aluminum foil. Many cats dislike the feel of walking on this surface.
  • Apply Sticky Paws (double-sided tape) to make the surface uncomfortable. Put the Sticky Paws on placemats set around on countertops or other forbidden surfaces, so it’s easily removed.
  • Position plastic floor mats, spike-side up, on tabletops so the cat will avoid the area.
  • Ssscat, a motion-activated unscented aerosol, can be positioned on the counter or other forbidden location. When Kitty jumps up, the ssscat sprays a burst of air that shoos him away - usually it takes only a couple of repeats to teach the lesson.

Provide Legal Outlets

It’s not fair to simply forbid the cat access to all second-story real estate in your house. If you offer her legal outlets that are higher and more attractive than the forbidden zones, she’ll naturally choose the legal perches and leave your mantel alone.

Cat trees are a big hit. Fancy ones are available from pet products stores. You can also simply clear a book shelf for your cat's lounging enjoyment. Or place a table near a window, and set up a bird bath or feeder for feline entertainment and viewing pleasure. You can also make inexpensive cat trees and playgrounds with a little imagination--the cat won't care if it cost $150 or $15.

Choose your battles. Perhaps you could allow her to lounge on the television (ooooh, it's so WARM against a kitty tummy!) as long as she leaves the kitchen island alone. After all, it's her house, too.

Seren enjoys her multilevel cat trees, is allowed on the TV, but leaves my countertops, stovetop and mantel alone. We compromised on the dining room table. Her bed rests beneath the warmth of the table’s stained glass lampshade, and while she dozes in style, we eat in front of the TV.


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