While most dog owners know that they can teach their dog to stay off or away from certain areas – a concept called boundary training – cat owners tend to not realize that cats can also have the joy of experience boundary training. Keep in mind that kittens and cats are curious creatures, and will try to walk and investigate wherever they want. That unfortunately includes some areas that you may want to consider off limits, such as the kitchen counter, table and dining table.
If you have an open-style curio shelf or cabinet with precious breakables, your heart may leap into your throat when kitty decides to weave herself through your irreplaceable figurines. And if you are playing a board game with a lot of movable pieces, such as chess, it can be downright infuriating for a curious cat to leap up off the floor right into your game, scattering the pieces. Teaching your cat boundary training may also prevent having your holiday guests turn away in disgust when your cat jumps up on the dinner table, because your cat will not be jumping up on the table with proper training.
The good news is that you can teach your cat that some areas are off-limits using the concepts of boundary training. The bad news is that it will take some degree of patience and repetition on your part to get this concept into your cat’s brain; cats tend to be more self-sufficient and slightly more aloof than the average canine. But it can be done.
Boundary training of a kitten can be easier than for a more mature cat. Generally, you teach the cat that whenever she goes to (or tries to go to) a particular area, unpleasant consequences immediately happen. Note that I said unpleasant; never use anything that will put your cat in danger.
One technique involves spray bottles. Purchase one or more empty spray bottles, fill them with plain water, and place the bottles near the areas you do not want your cat to go. If you want the kitchen table, the curio cabinet, and the coffee table in the living room to be off-limits, you should purchase three bottles. Then watch for your cat to start the jump up to an off-limit area. Have a spray bottle in hand, and give your cat a quick spritz of water – that should be enough to have the cat jump back down in disgust, as most cats dislike water. Wait just a moment for the cat to register what just happened, and then put the bottle down and redirect your cat’s attention to something she can play with, such as a cat toy on the floor. It may take anywhere from a few days to several weeks before your cat begins to understand that jumping on the restricted area always ends up with water in his face, but if you remain calm and consistent, the message will get through. Remember though that your cat is curious; always try to have something or somewhere to redirect her attention towards after the correction. Boundary training is not an overnight process!
Another technique involves taping aluminum foil along the perimeter of the area you don’t want your cat to be. Many cats dislike the feel of aluminum foil underneath their feet, perhaps because of the smoothness of the foil eliminates any texture for the cat to feel under their paws. This may be particularly helpful if your cat has access to the restricted areas while you are not at home, because the correction is an “automatic correction” that occurs whether you are personally present or not.
Care should be taken to ensure that any automatic correction is safe to use. Another automatic correction tool is mildly sticky double-sided tape, taped down on the areas to be avoided by the cat. This is trickier to use, however; if the tape fails to stick to the restricted surface area when your cat jumps up and lands on it, and instead sticks to your cat, your cat can easily be thrown into a panic. If you attempt to use the double-sided tape, be certain that the tape surface facing upwards is only sticky enough to be an annoyance, not sticky enough to stick to your cat.
If you have had your cat a long time, changing the rules may be tougher. You may need to keep your cat restricted to a particular room of the house while you are gone off at work or school. Otherwise, your cat may learn to avoid the restricted area when you are home. Boundary training is most effective when your cat does not have unfettered access to the restricted area when you are not home. If you do restrict your cat to a particular room, be sure that your cat has plenty of food, water, toys, a comfortable resting place (cat bed, kitty condo) as well as the ever-important litter box. If you have a tree near the window to the room, consider putting a bird-feeder on a branch so that your cat can be entertained watching the birds through the window.
Boundary training in cats can help prevent your cat from being up on the dinner table with your food and prevent your cat from swatting precious figurines off of shelves. As a shelter volunteer, I can personally attest that we have had people bring in cats they had gotten as kittens, simply because they didn’t realize the kitten would become large enough to jump up on tables and counters – and because the owner did not know that boundary training is a viable option for cats. Rather than waiting for a cat’s curiosity to become such an annoyance that you would consider surrendering your cat to a shelter, recognize that as the cat’s owner, it is your job to train your cat. Remember that a cared-for house-cat can live fifteen or more years. That is a lot of potential companionship to give up when just a few weeks of persistence can train your cat to know his boundaries.