Cats on the Counter: Therapy and Training for Your Cat

Cats on the Counter: Therapy and Training for Your Cat

by Larry Lachman, Frank Mickadeit

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Cats are wonderful companions, but when they misbehave it can be challenging, if not outright difficult, to successfully treat the behavior problem in order to restore feline harmony to the home once again. In Cats on the Counter Dr. Larry Lachman uses his unique approaches, borrowed from human therapy, to analyze what makes kitty tick, and what happens when his behavior gets out of control. Using a case-by-case format, behaviorist Lachman and journalist Frank Mickadeit deal with common problems such as clawing furniture, refusing to use the litterbox or spray marking in the house, fussy eating, and fighting with other cats. Cats on the Counter is filled with fascinating stories, excellent advice, and empathy for both misbehaving pets and their long-suffering people.

Other topics include:
The Freudian Feline and Family Therapy: cat personality and structural family systems therapy
The Jekyll&Hyde Kitty: cat aggression
Kitty Prozac: preserving your cat's mental health
Ailurophobia: the fear of cats and how to treat it
Kidproofing your Cat: teaching your children how to care for your cat
Lassie Meets Morris/Morris Meets Simba: introducing dogs to cats and cats to cats
The Final Feline Moment: pet loss, grief and how to say goodbye
"Holy Cats Batman!": Kitty ESP, catnip treats, and afterthoughts

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312276218
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/24/2000
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 1,015,307
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Larry Lachman holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and has been an animal behavior consultant since 1986. He hosts a weekly radio talk show about pet behavior and has been used as an expert by numerous television, radio, newspaper, and magazine reporters.

Frank Mickadeit is an editor at The Orange County Register. They both live in California.

Larry Lachman holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and has been an animal behavior consultant since 1986. He hosts a weekly radio talk show about pet behavior and has been used as an expert by numerous television, radio, newspaper, and magazine reporters.

Read an Excerpt

Cats On The Counter

Therapy and Training for Your Cat

By Larry Lachman, Frank Mickadeit

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2000 Dr. Larry Lachman and Frank Mickadeit
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-312-27621-8



The Personalities of Cats and Their Humans

There is no evidence that at any time during its history the cat's way of life and its reception into human homesteads were purposely planned and directed by humans, as was the case with all other domestic animals, at least from a very early stage of their association. ... In other words there was no agent domesticating the cat besides the cat himself

—Paul Leyhausen

The cat is the only animal which accepts the comforts but rejects the bondage of domesticity.

—Georges, Comte de Buffon

I usually can tell a great deal about a behavior problem by the way an owner describes his or her cat. Men, for instance, sometimes use words like "sneaky," "spiteful," "cunning," "wicked," and "ruthless" to describe a misbehaving feline. Women have used words or phrases like "aggressive," "nasty," and "treats me like a play toy" when discussing their male problem cat. What's going on here? Are these really psycho kitties from hell? Do cats really exhibit humanlike qualities, or is something else at work? Some people just seem to click better than others with cats. Why is that? What personality characteristics should a prospective cat owner have that will ensure a good feline-person match?

To foster positive, happy, and healthy relationships between cats and their human families, we need to address the personalities of the cat and the human members of the household. As we discussed in our book Dogs on the Couch, developing a good person-pet match means taking a thorough inventory of your own personality and temperament. Are you an outgoing, gregarious, constantly-in-motion person? Or are you more private and inwardly focused, someone who enjoys his quiet time? Are you assertive or passive, independent or needy? These questions are crucial in starting and maintaining a positive relationship with your cat.

In a few cases I've seen, an owner ends up with a pet whose personality clashes with his own. No matter what behavior-therapy techniques we might try, things don't work out. The gulf between the owner's temperament and the cat's is too great. These, uh, cat fights almost always end up with the pet being adopted out, abandoned, or euthanized. Fortunately, most cat behavior problems can be solved—if we change not only the cat's behavior but the human's, too.


By using certain theories of personality, we can identify specific characteristics that can increase the success of a person-cat match and avoid unnecessary cat relinquishment by the owner. I've found the most useful theories come from Carl Jung. Born in Switzerland in 1875, Jung was a protégé of Freud until he developed his own approach to psychotherapy called analytic psychology.

Jung believed that both men and women have within their psyches, or personalities, some complementary aspect of the opposite sex's archetype, a universally held image rooted deep in our unconscious. The man has his feminine side, called the anima (a Latin name for female soul-image), which can cause him to have a heightened sense of intuition, sentimental feelings, "irrationality," and other so-called feminine qualities. Some men repress these qualities because they're not "manly." The woman has a masculine side, or animus (male soul-image), that leads to dogmatic or "rigid" thoughts and opinions but can also be a source of courage, strength, and aggressiveness that she can draw on in a time of need. Women, too, can repress their aggressiveness and other perceived masculine traits for fear of not appearing "ladylike."

In men, the anima helps to balance their psyches so their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors don't go to extremes, leading to overly "macho" acting out or aggression. The animus in women balances their psyches so they, too, don't go to extremes, leading to utter passivity or withdrawal. When it comes to cats, people will often project onto the animal their own image of the opposite gender influence, an image that may have been repressed into their unconscious: men typically project their feminine side, and women project their masculine soul-image.

Projection, a psychological defense mechanism, shifts the cause of anxiety or unpleasant impulses to an external source rather than acknowledging that the anxiety and impulse is coming from within. It's like saying, "The cat hates me," rather than, "I hate the cat."

Many cat aggression or biting cases often involve single women who have a young male cat that is stalking, play biting, or scratching the owner. Frequently, the owner's animus or internalized masculine side leads her to describe the offending cat as being "like a typical male," who is "aggressive," "nasty," "has no respect," and "does his own thing." Some of these women may have unresolved hostility toward men that they are projecting onto their cat. Women cat owners who have a positive internalized masculine archetype tend to describe their male cats as "playful, affectionate, loyal, brave, and energetic." The same theory of projection hold for men. A man with a positive anima will describe his female cat as "sleek, sophisticated, dignified, and affectionate." A man with a negative feminine side who may have unresolved hostility toward women will describe his feline as a "conniving" and "untrustworthy" witch!

When dealing with a case that involves an anima/animus-related problem, I use structural family systems therapy to "re-frame" or alter the owner's perception of the meaning behind their cat's behavior problem—including confronting a negative projected anima or animus archetype. If I am not successful in doing this, the plan to alter the cat's misbehavior usually fails. We'll describe those techniques in detail in later chapters.


One of my favorite descriptions of the difference between cats and dogs comes from the noted veterinarian and author Michael Fox, who writes that dogs are extremely dependent animals and that this almost "pathological dependency" makes them ideal child substitutes. Compared to dogs, the cat is a relatively solitary animal, free from the pressures of needing to join a social group. As Fox says, "Those [people] with strength, courage, and conviction to walk alone—like the cat—often find happiness and fulfillment in their lives. They are not dependent on the views or acceptance of others ... Man is caught in the double bind of being, like the cat, highly individualistic, but at the same time a social animal with acquired needs."

Cats have not been domesticated to the same degree of dependence as have dogs. The dog has been domesticated for 14,000 years compared to the cat's 3,500. In that time, the cat has really changed very little. Most scientists agree that the small wild cats of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East are the immediate ancestors of the modern domestic cat.

The term co-dependent was originally used to describe a person whose life had become unmanageable as a result of living with someone who was an alcoholic or drug user. However, it's now recognized that co-dependent also describes unhealthy behavior patterns that can emerge from a relationship that may not involve substance abuse. A co-dependent person is someone who lets another's behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person's behavior. This definition also fits the majority of men I have counseled who were accused of committing acts of domestic violence against spouses or girlfriends.

All relationships are inherently co-dependent to some degree or another, but when a person operates primarily from a co-dependent stance in his relationship, it's cause for concern. This extreme social stance can lead to major conflicts to erupt, not only between humans, but between a cat and its person.

People with extreme co-dependency

• often say yes when they mean no;

• do things they really don't want to do;

• do more than their fair share of the work;

• do things other people are capable of doing for themselves;

• find it easier to feel and express anger about injustices done to others than about injustices done to themselves;

• feel bored, empty, and worthless if they don't have a crisis in their lives, a problem to solve, or someone to help;

• overcommit;

• feel guilty about spending money on themselves or doing unnecessary or fun things for themselves;

• have an extreme fear of rejection;

• look to relationships to provide all their good feelings;

• keep letting people hurt them;

• stay in relationships that don't work.

To stop being overly co-dependent, one needs to start meeting his or her own needs and wants. One has to develop self-reliance, self-respect, and self-love. In short, one needs to become more interdependent and self-sufficient.

Self-reliant. Not needy. Sounds very "catlike," doesn't it?

Human beings who are interdependent tend to have the following characteristics:

• the desire and room to grow and explore;

• separate interests of one's own;

• a preservation of mutual integrity;

• a willingness to risk and be real;

• the ability to set functional boundaries;

• the ability to enjoy being alone.

Asserting one's independence does not mean taking the extreme stance of anti-dependency, or radical independence. Some people believe they can take care of themselves entirely, that they need nobody else to fulfill their emotional or social needs. They become unable or unwilling to accept help or guidance from someone else. Their anthem might be "I am a rock. I am an island." But when they encounter an emotional need they can't satisfy on their own, that rock can crumble.


The cat is a living, breathing role model of the perfect balance and harmony of both the anima and animus—feminine and masculine—and of the balance between co-dependency and radical independence. A cat has the ability to meet some of its emotional and social needs on its own while satisfying other needs by interacting with its human caretakers. Cats set efficient functional boundaries. Cats keep people from coming into their personal space and allow themselves and their "person" to embody a sense of who they are, distinct and separate from the identity or needs of the other. It's part of the feline mystique. Ever hear cat lovers say that they prefer cats to canines because they're not as "needy" as dogs, that cats do like to give and receive affection, but only when and where they want it, and on their terms? For a cat, co-existing with its people is a true balancing act.

That's why people who achieve a balanced, or interdependent, lifestyle will be most attracted to, and satisfied with, their interactions with cats. For them, interacting with or "owning" a cat can be immensely rewarding and fulfilling! Because the cat is inherently interdependent and balanced in its anima/animus, it will enable and support the interdependent social stance of its person.

I think this explains why surveys show that single adults over thirty-five and "middle parents"—heads of households under age forty-five who have children under age six—own more cats in the United States than other demographic groups. The thirty-five- to forty-year-old is trying to achieve a balance between intimacy and isolation. Similarly, the middle-parent household typically is made up of people who are trying to move forward as opposed to stagnating and withdrawing from life. Both are very complementary characteristics for a cat person to have. Both groups epitomize the balanced social stance of interdependence and characteristically avoid falling into either the overly dependent or the overly aloof extremes.

Those who have imbalance in their anima or animus, or who project rigid and negative gender characteristics onto the cat, will end up resenting and despising the cat altogether. Someone who is co-dependent will not bond or mesh well with the cat because he or she won't feel sufficiently needed and wanted. The radically independent person who claims to require nothing of anyone will resent even the minimal tasks required of cat care, such as cleaning out litter boxes, providing enough play stimulation, and keeping up with yearly vaccinations.

Moving away from black-and-white, either-or thinking and toward a balanced, shades-of-gray perspective is one way a person can transform from being co-dependent to becoming more interdependent and self-sufficient. An honest assessment of your own anima/animus issues is crucial if you are trying to decide whether a cat will be a good family member for you.


When selecting the right animal for you, it's also important to inventory your own likes and dislikes and fundamental temperament. Jung believed there are four main types of human personality:

• Thinking

• Feeling

• Sensation

• Intuition

The "thinking" person is dominated by rational measurements and empirical knowing. They trust the facts. A "sensation" type relies primarily on his or her senses to understand the world around them instead of allowing imagination to color their perceptions. By comparison, the "intuitive" type sees possibilities; they have a perception of reality not known to consciousness, but tapped from the deep reservoirs of the unconscious. They trust their hunches. Often, they're the poets and visionaries of the world. A "feeling" person judges or values the atmosphere and acts accordingly. Because of their empathy, they're good in situations in which personal relationships matter. They also tend to make the best therapists. Most people typically do not rely on just one function, but one type does tend to dominate the way they orient themselves to the world.

Jung's four core types formed the basis of two methods for evaluating personalities—The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and a condensed version developed in 1978 by psychology professor David Keirsey. Keirsey detailed four base temperament types:

Sensation/Perceiving (SP) type. This person is characterized by the need to be free. She is impulsive and yearns for action.

Sensation/Judging (SJ) type. This person is characterized by the need to be useful to society, to feel he belongs, to perform well. He is obligated to work duties.

Intuitive/Thinking (NT) type. This person is characterized by the need to be competent, and to understand and control nature.

Intuitive/Feeling (NF) type. This person has the need to be authentic, to search for self, and to reach her highest potential.

Unsure which temperament type describes you best? Take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the Keirsey Temperament Sorter test. The Temperament Sorter is available in Keirsey's book Please Understand Me or on the Internet at


Because they're interdependent, self-sufficient, and freedom-seeking, the Intuitive/Feeling and Sensation/Perceiving types are generally best suited to be cat owners. The cat, by its nature, is very much a combination of both the Intuitive/Feeling and the Sensation/Perceiving personality type.

Those, however, who require control or structure and the need to feel needed and appreciated for social work and acts of giving, as the Intuitive/Thinking and Sensation/Judging personalities frequently are, may be closer to the co-dependent end of the dependency spectrum. This suggests the cat is probably not the best choice of pet for them. Frustration, disappointment, and resentment are likely if an Intuitive/Thinking or Sensation/Judging person gets a cat. The cat's semi-wild, nondependent nature can lead the Intuitive/Thinking or Sensation/Judging person to feel rejected, unappreciated, and unloved by their very interdependent cat.


Most of my cat consults involve cats and their people who are well matched in interdependency but who are experiencing a recurring behavior problem leading to distress in the household.

About 75 percent of my in-home behavior consultations involve a cat and its Intuitive/Feeling or Sensation/Perceiving owner, who is having difficulty working out behavior problems involving house soiling, spray/marking, clawing/destruction, fighting with other cats, excessive meowing, or aggression toward humans. Only a quarter of my cases involve a true personality mismatch; an inherently Intuitive Feeling/Sensation/Perceiving interdependent cat paired with an Intuitive/Thinking or Sensation/Judging co-dependent–oriented person. In these cases, if we can't work things out by bringing the two parties closer together through compromise, by stretching their predisposed personality characteristics to accommodate each other, then the cat often needs to be placed in another home.

But since most cat behavior cases involve owners whose personalities are well-matched with their cats, you might wonder, Why is there a problem? It's usually because the emotional boundaries between the compatible cat and its person are either too enmeshed (intertwined) or too disengaged (overly rigid with insufficient nurturing and interaction between cat and owner). Therefore, you can't only focus on the cat when working on a severe cat-behavior problem. The owners also must change the way they relate to their cat. The structure and emotional boundaries of the humans and felines must be redefined and enforced. The method by which we do this is called structural family therapy.


Excerpted from Cats On The Counter by Larry Lachman, Frank Mickadeit. Copyright © 2000 Dr. Larry Lachman and Frank Mickadeit. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword by Eric Van Nice, D.V.M.,
1. THE FREUDIAN FELINE AND FAMILY THERAPY: The Personalities of Cats and Their Humans,
2. THE FICTIONAL FELINE: Common Cat Myths,
3. GOOD HOUSEKEEPING: Introducing Cats to New Homes,
4. LASSIE MEETS MORRIS/MORRIS MEETS SIMBA: Introducing Dog to Cat/Cat to Cat,
5. FELINE FASTIDIOUSNESS AND THE "TURF" CAT: Solving Litter Box Problems and Stopping Your Cat from Spraying Indoors,
6. THE JEKYLL-HYDE KITTY: Cat Aggression,
7. THE PIRANHA CAT: Cat Destructiveness,
8. CAT CALLS: Chronic Meowing and Crying,
9. KIDPROOFING YOUR CAT: Training Your Children to Care for Your Cat,
10. AILUROPHOBIA: Overcoming the Fear of Cats,
11. KITTY PROZAC?: Your Cat's Mental Health and How to Preserve It,
12. THE FINAL FELINE MOMENT: Pet Loss, Grief, and How to Say Good-bye,
13. "HOLY CATS, BATMAN!": Kitty ESP, Afterthoughts, and Loose Ends,
APPENDIX A: Cat and Veterinary Organizations to Know,
APPENDIX B: Cat Bytes: Web Sites to Know,
APPENDIX C: Glossary of Structural Family Therapy Terminology and an Outline of Jungian Analytical Psychology Concepts,
APPENDIX D: Statistics on Cat Ownership and Cat Breeds,
APPENDIX E: Inspiring News Article/Web Site Excerpts on Cats and Their People,
APPENDIX F: The Diary of a Cat Owner—A Comprehensive Treatment Review of the Case of "Wolfie and the Trespassing Tom," by Wolfie's Mom: From Beginning to End,
Bibliography and Suggested Reading,

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