Cat Training: How to Keep Cats Off Counters

Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD
By Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD
Updated: 6/7/2024
Gray cat sprawled out on counter

There’s no doubt that cats are athletic creatures. Their bodies were made for jumping. But if you’re wondering how to keep cats off counters, there are ways to curb this behavior while still giving your cat the places and spaces to live in their element and practice their natural behaviors. Read on for information about how high cats can jump as well as how to keep cats off counters, furniture and other household items.

How High Can Cats Jump?

A typical housecat can jump six to eight feet – and that’s without a running start! The vertical leap in itself is impressive, but knowing that cats’ bodies were made for jumping is even more awe-worthy. There are five parts of their bodies that contribute to their stellar jumping skills.

1. Hind Legs

Cats’ hind legs are different from their front legs. They are longer and stronger which help to elevate them when leaping. Both hind legs are also uniquely angled. This makes for better shock absorption when landing. 

2. Front Legs

While the hind legs do the hard work of propelling cats that jump, the front legs play an important role in landing the jump. Once a cat leaps, their front paws extend to provide stability during landing. Their front claws also help them to grip the surface upon landing.

3. Muscles

A cat’s body has more than 500 muscles. They contain “fast twitch” muscle fibers that allow them to push off into big bursts of movement. All of their muscles are activated any time they make a jump.

4. Bones

When a cat leaps, their bones are working, too. In particular, their flexible spines have the ability to arch back and forth. This comes in handy when airborne, allowing them to flex their spines if their landing is even a tad bit off course. It also helps them make soft landings with ease.

5. Whiskers

They may not seem significant at first glance, but a cat’s whiskers serve a very important purpose. They help a jumping cat to judge the space they’re entering. Even when jumping, the whiskers can provide important information to help cats know where, when or how to land.

Can Cats Be Trained to Stay Off Furniture?

It’s one thing to admire a cat for their incredible jumping abilities, but when they’re jumping onto unwanted household items or into dangerous destinations, that’s a different story.

Cats can be trained to stay away from items like furniture, though. While there are plenty of recommendations online for methods that involve unpleasant sprays and textures, such as cat repellant or tinfoil, it is best to pursue training methods that don’t attempt to scare your cat away from the items they’re pursuing. Fear isn’t a good motivator because it can often lead to behavioral side effects. Redirecting negative behavior in ways that positively reinforce good behavior is always the preferred method.

Here are some tips for how to keep cats off your couch:

1. Assess the Couch

Take some time to assess the furniture itself. Why does your cat like to jump on it? Is it because it’s near a window they like to look out? Is the furniture soft and comfortable? One simple step is to reposition the couch so that it looks less appealing to your cat. Perhaps, move it away from the window or close the blinds. Or if you often find your cat nestling in blankets or pillows on the couch, consider removing or repositioning those from the space.

2. Add a Cat Scratch Post or Tree House

Another question to think through when determining how to keep cats off furniture is whether your cat has a space near the couch to engage in purposeful play. By incorporating a cat scratch post or tree house into the space, your cat can stay engaged in a much more interesting piece of “furniture.” When you notice your cat using the cat scratch post or tree house instead of the couch, be sure to give praise and reward them. Moreover, a cat scratch post will help keep your cat’s nails trimmed, too, which helps to avoid the chances of scratching the couch.

3. Incorporate Purposeful Play

Along the same lines as the cat scratch post or tree house, make sure your cat is getting quality play time. A bored cat is more likely to climb furniture for attention, so make sure your cat is getting the stimulation they need. You don’t always need to resort to expensive play structures to ensure they’re getting this kind of play and engagement, either. Take the time to interact with your cat through one-on-one play using toys and treats.

4. Clicker Training

First off, cats can most definitely be trained, although it takes time and dedication for both the owner and cat. One effective way to train them is with a clicker and training stick. Purchase a clicker from your local pet store. The training stick can be purchased at a pet store as well, or you can use a long wooden stick or rod. 

You’ll want to spend a few days teaching your cat to follow the stick. Starting with the stick pointed at your cat’s nose, see if your cat starts sniffing the stick. At the first sign of sniffing, click the clicker and reward your cat with praise and a treat. Gradually start moving the stick away from your cat’s nose, and each time your cat contacts the stick, click the clicker and give them a treat. Remember to reward with praise and a treat until your cat consistently follows the stick. This will take a number of days to learn, so don’t rush the process, and keep the training intervals short.

When your cat has mastered following the stick, you can use it to guide your cat away from the couch. The stick method is an effective way to learn how to keep a cat off counters, plants or any other unwanted objects. However, it’s important to know that while this method will help to quickly redirect your cat from the couch, it won’t prevent them from going to the couch in the first place. Remember to frequently seek opportunities to reward your cat when they aren’t in the undesired location. This will reinforce being in the more desired locations more often.

How to Keep Your Cat Off the Counter

Much like the tips above that offer suggestions for how to keep cats off furniture, you can learn how to train cats to stay off counters by reinforcing positive behavior. Many online articles recommend methods designed to scare cats away from the counters, such as using double-sided sticky tape on the counter surface or using a motion-activated noisemaker to deliver an unpleasant sound when your cat jumps onto the counter. It is far better to train a cat to stay off counters through positive reinforcement and science-based training methods.

Here are a few safe tips to learn how to keep cats off counters:

1. Assess the Counters

Are there any items on your counters that your cat might find appealing? If food or crumbs are left out in the open, cats may be tempted to jump up and go after the items on a counter. Cats have a strong sense of smell, so remember to keep counters clean and remove any items that may entice them.

Also, do the counters receive a lot of sunlight? If the sun streams through your windows in just the right spot, it could create a warm sunny spot for your cat to curl up. Consider closing the blinds to make the area less enticing and creating an alternative space away from the counters where your cat can bask in the sun.

2. Fix the Faucet

If your jumping cat happens to be leaping onto counters in order to access running water at the sink, you may want to focus on the faucet. Repair any leaks coming from the faucet, and make sure your cat has adequate access to water away from the sink and counters.

Cats are drawn to running water, so another method for eliminating the intrigue with the sink is to purchase a water fountain for your cat. A water fountain provides a more natural way for your cat to hydrate – eliminating the need for a bowl and the need to constantly refill to keep the water fresh.

3. Clicker Training

One of the greatest reasons to clicker train your cat is because it can apply to any form of unwanted behavior. Beyond the counters, if you’re looking for tips for how to keep cats off plants or how to keep a cat off your car, clicker training can help.

Follow the same steps as above for using clicker training to keep cats off furniture. Focus on using the stick to guide your cat’s attention and continuously reward them with praise and treats for following the stick. Once your cat has mastered this interaction, you can put it into action by steering them away from your counters, plants and car.

For more expert tips on training your cat, explore our cat training page. And to explore cat training even further, get all the tips right on your phone by downloading the myPurina app.


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