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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

How to Discourage Your Cat

from Jumping on Counters

Written by Anne Moss

If you have been reading a bit about
feline behavior, then you should know by now that cats and discipline don't mix; in other words, you should never punish your cat. Cats are not dogs and you simply can't take your cat to obedience class… That said, sometimes you need to lay down some rules in the house and get an educational point across to your cat. While I still hold that punishment, in the human ethical and moral sense of the word, does not work with cats, I wish to show you how to employ behavioral techniques based on negative reinforcement to teach your cat to stay away from certain places. This article will teach you how to discourage your cat from jumping on kitchen counters and any other high surfaces.
Before you even begin teaching your cat to stay away from certain places, let's look at the causes for this type of behavior. Cats require a sufficient amount of
living space, including enough vertical space. Before restricting your cat from accessing some areas, make sure that your kitty has plenty of roaming and climbing space within your home. Invest in cat trees, cat gyms and designated cat shelves. This stage is crucial! Not allowing your cat almost any climbing space will result in a stressed and frustrated kitty and even more behavioral issues down the road.
Once you've made sure that your cat has enough space (vertical space included), it's time to learn how to teach your cat right from wrong and "explain" to her which surfaces are off-limits. Since we are trying to prevent a certain type of behavior, rather than encourage one, we'll have to use Negative Reinforcement. We are trying to create a certain connection in the cat's mind, associating the type of behavior which we're trying to prevent with a negative outcome. Before I review the various methods for achieving this, there are three principles to keep in mind whenever attempting any kind of negative reinforcement with your cat –
Keep the human out of the loop - We want to make sure that the cat associates the negative result directly with the action we want to prevent – never with you, the
cat owner.
Keep the reinforcement consistent – This is true of any behavioral learning process and is crucial when it comes to negative reinforcement. It means the cat has to receive a negative reaction every single time it attempts the behavior which we wish to discourage.
Keep stress levels down – Remember that cats are individuals and may have different reactions to sudden sounds, or any other type of sensory stimulation you may opt to use. You aim at making the unwanted behavior result in something unpleasant, but make sure it's not too frightening and doesn't cause your cat unnecessary stress.
So, now that we know our principles, let's review the commonly used negative reinforcement techniques and see which ones are best suitable for you and your cat.
The Water Squirter/Can Shaking
This is probably one of the best-known techniques of negative reinforcement. The idea here is for the cat owner to always be on guard, ready with a squirt bottle, an empty soda can with some coins in it, or even a compressed air can. As soon as the cat performs the forbidden act, you're supposed to apply the instrument of choice and either spray the cat with some water (never directly on its face), or simply "blow the horn" and create some loud sudden noise, hopefully without kitty seeing it was you who operated the nasty thing.
While this method can be very effective with some cats, I usually don't recommend using it, for several reasons. First, it could possibly associate you, the cat owner, with the punishment. Ideally, anyone using this method should try to attract as little attention to herself or himself as possible, and make the squirt bottle or "noise can" as disassociated from themselves as possible. In reality, this is extremely difficult to achieve, as most owners project their own nervousness and agitation into the process. Secondly, in terms of consistency, this method is far from perfect. It's difficult to be on the alert at all times, or even to be around at all times, and you end up with having a non-consistent pattern. Thirdly, and not less important, the water spray and loud noises can be too stressful for some cats.

Source: TheCat Site