Cat Training Basics

Training can be as simple as making inappropriate behavior unpleasant and appropriate behavior fun.

Scratching the furniture, jumping on the counter and climbing the curtains: like it or not, it’s normal feline behavior. If your cat were living in the wild, these are the sorts of activities she would be engaging in. Unfortunately, these types of behavior don’t translate well to urban living. Try to understand your cat’s needs and give her an appropriate way to express them.

Reward rather than punish
Whatever your training needs may be, be sure to follow the practice of rewarding your cat for good behavior, rather than punishing her for bad habits. With the proper training, your cat will learn that she gets a treat whenever she scratches on the cat tree instead of the furniture or sits on the window perch instead of the counter:

  • Don’t hit or punish your pet when she “misbehaves.” Outbursts will just make your cat afraid of you.
  • Redirect your cat’s attention to something acceptable and reward “good” behavior.

Address litter box avoidance
If your otherwise fastidious cat suddenly uses the carpet instead of the litter box, it may be a distress signal that requires immediate medical attention. Potentially fatal lower urinary tract infections (LUTI) are often the culprit. In this instance, when your cat relieves herself, it hurts. So she may conclude that the box is what is causing the pain. A trip to the veterinarian will tell you whether or not you’re dealing with a physical problem.

If the problem is behavioral, try the following steps:

  • Switch to an unscented, sandy-textured litter –it more closely mimics the outdoors.
  • Make sure that your cat’s litter box is clean. Scoop out clumps daily and change non-clumping litter at least once a week.
  • Lastly, make sure that the litter box is accessible and that there is at least one litter box per cat in your home.

Stop aggression
A biting or aggressive cat should be checked out by a veterinarian. Your pet may be reacting to pain. Actual aggression must not be encouraged. For example, letting your cat “attack” your hands or toes is not advised. It may be adorable when your cat is little, but can be painful when she is bigger. When you see your cat in the ambush position, sternly say “no” and give her a squirt on the butt with a water pistol or clap your hands loudly.

End furniture scratching
Furniture scratching is a natural feline behavior. They scratch to condition their claws, get exercise, mark territory and simply because it’s fun. Remember, screaming or hitting doesn’t work. Try these tips instead:

  • Trim your cat’s claws and re-channel energy toward a scratching post or a cardboard scratching pad.
  • Praise your cat and give her a treat whenever you see her use the scratching post.
  • Make your upholstered furniture less inviting by applying double-sided tape or spraying a cat repellent around the area where your cat scratches.

Other annoying habits
Wires and plants simply beg to be chewed, but can become a deadly snack. Spray a pet deterrent on anything your cat may be tempted to gnaw on.

If your cat jumps up on the counter, create a water trap by filling shallow aluminum trays with water and lining them up next to the edge of the counter. When your cat springs up there, she will land in a pan of water. This training exercise does create a mess, but will be well worth it. Since cats love high places, give her a place to satisfy that need with a tall cat tree.

Your love, patience and consistent training will go a long way to help manage your cat’s natural feline behavior.