12

We have a 7-month-old cat. I would like to prevent her from getting on the dinner table because it's likely there's something to eat, or at least a water jug there, and we don't want her to start stealing (or putting her head in the water jug as she loves to do…).

Whenever she gets on the table, I will push her down and tell her severely she must not get up there, often pointing to the table with my hand. I'm pretty sure she understands that. The point is, she feels it's a game: when I push her down, she starts getting up again on the other end of the table with her playful look, on alert. She will continue this again and again, a dozen of times or more.

Sometimes I will just let her on the table because I see there's nothing on the table and I don't feel like fighting (usually when I'm at the other end of the room, and if I push her down she'll wait for me to sit down before getting again on the table, again and again…).

I'm a bit lost here. Any clue as to how to handle this?

  • 2
    Once you managed to teach your cat to stay of the table and it seems to have been working for a while, powder the table with flower before you leave for work. Then check the table (and the floors, counter, cupboards, ...) when you return. – jippie Nov 28 '13 at 21:41
  • 1
    Short & sweet - get rid of the table. That's the only way you are going to win. – Mawg says reinstate Monica Nov 20 '17 at 13:44
  • Even if you do succeed, you are going to have to take the table with you every time you leave the house. – Mawg says reinstate Monica Nov 20 '17 at 13:45
  • @Mawg I didn't really care about that as we don't leave anything edible on the table in such a case. – Skippy le Grand Gourou Nov 21 '17 at 8:32
  • Anyway, now she rarely tries to put her paws on the table anymore (still from time to time, though). I'm not sure what helped, maybe age, or my shouting and throwing (light and non-threatening, e.g. pen or ping-pong ball) objects at her when she does. (Yeah, I don't like this behaviour of mine either, but eh…) – Skippy le Grand Gourou Nov 21 '17 at 8:35
14

Your cat does not understand you when you tell her to stay off the table.

At 7 months old, she's still a kitten (really more like an adolescent, actually, which makes it even more difficult).

If you sometimes let her up on the table, then you're not sending a clear message to her. You have to be consistent.

If you want to ban her from the table, then you have to remove her immediately after she gets on the table, whenever you see her doing it. Every. Single. Time.

If she persists in treating it like a game, you have a couple of options.

The first is to remove her from the room altogether. If she jumps on the table, immediately pick her up and put her back on the floor. If she tries to immediately jump back up again, pick her up and carry her out of the room, then put her down. Removing her from the room sends a much clearer message that you aren't playing, and that her being on the table is undesirable behavior.

Another option is to make the table much less inviting.

As it stands now, you've made the table top a very attractive and entertaining place for your cat to be. There's water to drink, games to play, and possibly even sometimes a snack available.

If she's drinking water out of the container on the table, remove the container of water from the table. Make sure an alternate, more appropriate water source is available somewhere nearby, instead. If her normal water source isn't in the same room as the table, consider adding a dish of water for her (or a pet water fountain nearby.

If all else fails, you can try making the table top actively uncomfortable for her to be on. Put a tablecloth on the table, and place long strips of double-sided tape along the top. She will almost certainly dislike stepping on the tape, and it should dissuade her from being on the table top. After a week or two, you can try removing the tape to see if she's learned to avoid the table.

| improve this answer | |
  • Most cats don't care if you don't want them on the table or not, so any modficiation that involves you responding to the presence of the cat on the table will fail when you aren't there (or are settled into the couch watching TV). The best solutions are to provide whatever she wants (climbing surface) nearby, and to make the table uncomfortable (double sided tape, aluminum foil, carpet protectors nubby side up, movement activated air sprays, etc). – Zaralynda Nov 25 '13 at 15:35
  • 2
    My experiences don't agree with the assumption that cats will automatically ignore any training when unobserved. Some may. Some may not. Regardless, it may be sufficient to the OP's concerns to keep the cat from jumping on the table while they are around, so long as they avoid leaving unattended food/water out. – Beofett Nov 25 '13 at 15:56
  • Actually when she is on the table and I don't bother going through the room to remove her I pretend I didn't notice. ;) It happens only in the evening since on the day our toddler is prompt to denounce her. As supposed by Beofett, I don't care if she get on the table when we're not around as the table is then completely empty. On the other hand, during the day we cannot completely empty it all the time. But I don't think the table would really qualify as "inviting", since there's usually nothing else than the water and a glass — and she has water a few meters from there in the same room. – Skippy le Grand Gourou Nov 25 '13 at 17:32
  • Removing her from the room on the second attempt seems a really good advice, I'll try that from now on. If it doesn't work I'll think about making the table uncomfortable. – Skippy le Grand Gourou Nov 25 '13 at 17:36
  • 1
    It may not work the first time. The key is to be consistent, stop ignoring the problem, and put the cat out of the room every time. – user9 Nov 25 '13 at 19:54
7

In addition to Beofett’s answer (which I am not going to repeat, although I agree with large parts): It sounds like you’re giving your cat attention whenever she misbehaves. She probably loves that and will continue behavior for which she gets (non-threatening) attention. Just place (or nudge) her down and ignore her for a few minutes. But do give her attention when she is well-behaved.

| improve this answer | |
3

The best way to teach them is through consistent disincentivization.


disincentivization

The rule in our house is that the cats are allowed to be on the kitchen table, but not the kitchen counter (the two are adjacent).

The second they touch the kitchen counter, I push them off. However, I don't just push them towards the table, but rather to the ground.

Think of it this way: If the punishment for trying to steal money (and getting caught) would be to give back the stolen money and nothing more, then there's no drawback to stealing money and trying to get away with it.
However, if the punishment consists of undoing the crime (giving back the money) and an additional punishment (paying a hefty fine or going to jail), then there is a good reason to not try and steal money.

I apply the same rule to the cats. If you commit a crime (walking on the kitchen counter), I will undo the crime (pushing them off) add an extra punishment (losing table privileges).
I generally only keep them from the table for 30 seconds. Cats don't register long term punishments, I can't be bothered to police the table, and the point is made clear: overreaching causes you to lose a lot more than you stood to gain.


Consistency

The same is true of the couch. They're allowed to be on the couch, but they're not allowed to be on the tables (which we use when eating).

Initially, my girlfriend would bar them from the couch whenever we were eating. But this ended up sending mixed messages; the cats were never sure if they were allowed on the couch or not (thus making them hesitant to come to us, even when asking them to).

So I changed the rules. They get to be on the couch, but the moment they touch the table, I push them off the couch. Even our youngest, who doesn't quite follow rules yet, very quickly identified that it's better to at least get to look at and sniff the food (at a distance), compared to sitting on the cold floor.

Consistency is incredibly important, if you want your cat to learn something. If you only enforce a rule when you can be bothered to enforce it, then the cat will not realize that the punishment is the effect of the misbehavior (cause), but instead will infer that you're a loose cannon that punishes (otherwise acceptable behavior) erratically.


Mood swings

This is auxiliary to making the consistency more clear.

If you're able to immediately change from happy to strict, the second the cat jumps on the table, and you immediately return to a happy state when the cat is off the table; you make it very clear to the cat that their actions impact the mood of the room (especially if multiple humans do it at the same time).

This may not help for cats who aren't bonded to humans. However, you mention that your cat is playful, which suggests that she interacts with you, and is therefore also aware of (and cares about) your behavior, since she wants you to interact (play) with her.
It's exactly because they want that interaction with you, that making yourself unavailable for interaction (by being upset with them) is a negative consequence; it achieves the opposite of what the cat wants.

Painting an extreme example:

Whenever your cat physically touches the table, you scream your lungs out (not directed at the cat, just in general). Whenever your cat does not physically touch the table, you are quiet.
Today, the cat wants to sleep. In silence. It is aware of you consistently screaming when it's on the table, and it cannot prevent that from happening.

Do you think the cat will decide to go sleep on the table?

Of course I don't advocate screaming; but the point of the example is that an unwanted yet inevitable consequence to the cat's misbehavior makes it very clear that the cat should avoid specific (mis)behavior if it wants to avoid the inevitable consequences of that behavior.

The only thing that takes time, is teaching the cat that the cause and effect are connected. And they can only learn that through consistent experiences.

Interestingly,
Notice that in the screaming example, you are not even telling the cat that it shouldn't be on the table. You are merely attaching a consequence to being on the table, and you of course intentionally picked a consequence that the cat disliked (but the cat doesn't know that).
The cat makes its own decision to not be on the table, because it is aware of the consequence.


Getting them off the table

The point is, she feels it's a game: when I push her down, she starts getting up again on the other end of the table with her playful look, on alert. She will continue this again and again, a dozen of times or more.

You're undoing her crime, but not adding an additional punishment on top.

In order to learn something, the cat must experience a negative consequence to their misbehavior. This doesn't need to be excessive, but it does need to at least inconvenience the cat.

If she responds to you playfully, she's clearly not feeling inconvenienced or punished.

You'll need to find what works for your cat. Some cats get the message when you put more force into it when pushing them (not angrily or violently, but firmly). Others respond to a loud "No". Others need a bang (e.g. smacking your hand on the table).

What I suggest you do it slowly escalate. First state their name. Then say no. Then push her off. If she resists, say no again (louder) and push a bit harder. If she keeps fighting you, pick her up and forcefully (but calmly) remove her.

Over time, the cat will learn your escalation pattern. And in order to avoid the escalation (e.g. if she hates being picked up), she will learn to comply faster and avoid the escalation.
Our youngest is now at the point where disapprovingly stating his name gets him to reconsider. He even listens when he's doing something that he hasn't ever done before (and therefore has no experience being told off), which proves that he has learned the inevitable consequences of ignoring my verbal feedback.

Sometimes I will just let her on the table because I see there's nothing on the table and I don't feel like fighting (usually when I'm at the other end of the room, and if I push her down she'll wait for me to sit down before getting again on the table, again and again…).

This is an issue of consistency. Is the cat allowed on the table, or is it not?

You need to make sure that the distinction between these two is easy to make. The cat can't distinguish between e.g. allowing it on the table when there's random papers on the table, but not allowing it on the table when there's an important paper on the table.

However, there are other ways to signal what is and isn't allowed. When I was a child, our cats were allowed on the table. During dinner time, we would cover the table, but only partially (large table, small family).

Enforcing a "no cats on the table when we're eating" rule didn't work. They were allowed on the table when e.g. I was doing my homework there, and they couldn't distinguish dinner from homework in that sense. So the rule changed. They were allowed on the table, but not on the table cover. They were allowed to sit on the uncovered part, and would not get told off unless she touched the table cover.

Since we were able to consistently enforce this rule for many years, without ever making an exception, we had solved the problem. There were a rare few cases where we didn't want the cat on the table at other times. We put the cover on the table, and the cats never even tried to get on it.

| improve this answer | |
-1

I haven't done it in about eight years, but I'm pretty sure my cat will still head for the hills if I crinkle a plastic water bottle.

Because that's the sound it makes right before they get doused with water.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Our cat had the same pavlovian response to hearing the couch creak. It's a sign that I was leaning to get the spray bottle. – Flater Nov 28 '17 at 11:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.