To start with, don’t encourage bad habits. If you’re preparing a tuna salad and your cat comes into the kitchen just begging for tuna, don’t just reach into the bowl and hand him some. The lesson he learns from this is that good things come from the kitchen counters. (Yes, I give my cats a little tuna every time I open a can, but I put their tiny portions into their cat food dishes and set them out where they normally get fed. This way, they learn that food only comes from their dishes – not the counters and not the dinner table.) Don’t leave tempting foods unattended either, because cats are not very good at resisting temptation. And every time your cat manages to steal a treat from the countertop, he’s learning that counters are a great place to cruise.
So now your counters are clear, but kitty still wants to check out the possibilities. How do you teach him to stay off, even when you’re not around to supervise? The answer is simple: Put something on the counter that kitty doesn’t like to walk on. He’ll quickly learn that being on the counter is an unpleasant experience – even when you’re not there to tell him so.
You’ve probably read about elaborate contraptions you can build with water balloons, mousetraps, and other nasty things. But these things can hurt your cat (or scare the whiskers off him!). And, if you’re like me, you’re in and out of your kitchen all day (when you’re at home), so you want to use a deterrent that’s safe, and that’s easy to pick up and put back again.
Try sheets of aluminum foil. Most cats can’t stand to walk on foil, and you can just pick up the sheets and drape them over the refrigerator when you’re in the kitchen. Plastic bath mats or car mats also work well; just turn the nubbly side up and your cat will not enjoy walking on them.
If you’ve got a furry Einstein who has figured out that he can pull the aluminum foil onto the floor and tiptoe around the nubbles on the car mats, set up some shallow cookie tins filled with water. Just make sure they’re not hanging off the edge of the counter, because then a leaping cat could pull them down onto himself.