- How To Train Your Cat
How To Train Your Cat
An Owner's Complete Guide
This is a guide on training cats to stop unwanted behaviors and to divert them toward proper behavior. This is not a guide on specialized training, such as performing tricks or using the toilet. Within this guide, you’ll learn about training methods, incentives for training, how to correct specific unwanted behaviors such as scratching furniture, jumping on countertops, and more.
Can Cats Be Trained?
Much to your relief, yes! Cats can be trained, but just as you experience with humans, every cat is different and has their own personality that affects how smooth or difficult this process can be. It is important to learn your cat’s personality: what she likes, what she dislikes, how she responds to certain stimuli, and all of her little eccentricities. If you have multiple cats, you’ll easily notice all of their obvious and subtle differences in personality.
Incentives for Cats
There are three valuable tools when it comes to training your cat:
- Catnip: some cats will do anything to roll around in catnip, so use this substance wisely to train your cat toward good behaviors as a reward.
- Treats: some cats constantly crave treats, so when training, treats are best kept as a reward and not as a random gift for the cat.
- Attention: some cats just want attention from you, their owner, so it is important to make sure you give your cat attention when she is being good and divert your attention when she engaged in unwanted behavior (such as biting, scratching, or hissing).
Ways to Train a Cat
Treats can work well as rewards for cats but should be given sparingly to a cat since treats typically are not part of a balanced, nutritious diet. Some cats feel rewarded by receiving positive attention or getting what they want, so it is important to be careful about how you react to certain unwanted behaviors.
For example, if it is common for your cat to cry at an inconvenient time of day (such as when you are sleeping or otherwise busy), the cat will feel rewarded if you feed him or pet him and will associate crying with the reward.
Cats can be deterred by several types of stimulants, including sounds, scents, and textures.
For cats that scratch on furniture, here are a few methods for deterrence:
- Use a spray deterrent. Some scents are repulsive to cats, and you can spray them on furniture and in locations of your home where you do not want the cat to go. Consistently spray this on your furniture every day until it is clear that your cat has lost interest.
- If a spray deterrent seems ineffective, try a texture deterrent. Certain textures are very uncomfortable on your cat’s paws, including sticky mats, aluminum foil, and more.
Click training is more common for training dogs but can be effective for some cats.
The method involves associating a click with a treat. Every time your cat performs preferred behavior, reward with a click, praise, and a treat. The cat will start performing this preferred behavior in order to receive her click and treat. Learn more about this method from a trusted DVM at Vet Street.
Diversion / Creating Proper Outlets
Diverting a cat from certain behaviors can be fruitless if an alternate outlet is not provided.
For example, if a cat is scratching furniture, it is important to provide the cat with an alternative object to scratch since this behavior is innate. It is usually most effective to put a scratching post somewhere within the vicinity of the furniture your cat scratches so that he can be diverted to the scratcher. If using the spray method, keep the furniture saturated with the spray scent, while keeping the scratcher covered with catnip or occasionally laden with treats that your cat enjoys.
Correcting Unwanted Behavior
Scratching Furniture, Curtains, and Carpets/Rugs
As previously mentioned in this guide, preventing a cat from scratching furniture and other household objects requires a combination of deterring her from the object with a spray or texture, as well as providing an alternate outlet for scratching, such as a scratching post.
Jumping on Countertops or Cabinets
It is a cat’s inherent nature to seek high ground and keep watch over their territory. However, it’s not always favorable for an owner to have their cats up on tables and on top of kitchen cabinets and appliances.
A number of methods exist today to keep cats off surfaces, including motion-activated deterrent sprays and textured mats that are uncomfortable on kitty paw pads. In the process of using these methods for deterrence, it is important to provide alternative surfaces for your cat to climb, such as cat condos and cat trees. An added benefit of these towers is that they provide a comfortable napping spot and scratching surfaces for your cat’s nails.
Not Using the Litter Box
When a cat is going potty on carpets, furniture, and blankets, it’s usually an indication of a specific issue your cat is having. Sometimes this issue is related to their litter box, and sometimes it is related to your cat’s physical or psychological health.
When this issue occurs, first try methods that make the litter box a more favorable potty option for your cat. Some ideas include:
- Purchase another litter box and put it in another location in your home to see if your cat prefers this box and/or location. Be sure not to put this box near an entry or exit location of your home.
- Scoop the litter box more frequently just in case it is the box’s lack of cleanliness that keeps your cat from using it.
- Try a new type of litter. Some cats are particular about the effectiveness of the litter at covering up their scent.
If the issue persists, you should consult your cat’s veterinarian. The issue could actually be related to your cat’s health.
Training a Cat to Stop Biting
When a kitten tends to bite during play, the most effective method for diverting this behavior is by ending play with the kitten. The kitten loves to play, and when cats play together, it involves playful biting. If the play session ends and you walk away when the kitten bites, then they may start to associate biting you with the end of play, which is not a favorable outcome for the kitten.It is especially helpful to provide toys that your kitten can bite as alternatives to biting your hand. When the kitten starts biting you, replace your hand with a chew toy and walk away.