The happiest homes are the ones that operate in harmony for both kitties and kitty owners. Are you dying to finally get your cat’s spraying under control? Or maybe you just want to own one piece of furniture that isn’t completely destroyed from Lily’s incessant scratching. Maybe you just wish Sebastian wasn’t so skittish. First and foremost, the idea that “cats can’t be trained” should be smashed as you move into the first steps of cat training. It is important to be of the mindset that our cat’s unwanted behaviors are natural but do not have to be permanent. Whether you have a new kitten who needs the foundation of house rules or you have an adult cat who could use some corrective instructions, these Five Training Tips will have your cat-occupied household living in harmony in no time.
1. Avoid Punishment
When training a cat or working to correct certain behaviors it is important to remember not to scold, swat, or make threatening sounds or movements. Punishing reactions will instill fear in your cat and create a hostile environment, leading to nervous “misbehaviors” causing more frustration for everyone involved. While it may be challenging not to burst out at your cat when they scratch your favorite armchair or urinate in the study rather than the litter box, yelling or hitting is a short-term solution to what can become a long-term problem. Above all, remember to pause a moment before reacting. Take a few deep breaths, and then proceed with a corrective behavior rather than a punishing one.
2. Deterrence and Corrective Behavior
As you take a moment to breathe, racking you brain for positive alternatives to unleashing your present frustration, consider having a sound that will signal “No” to your cat and one or two corrective steps to follow. For example: A clap or clicker will get the cat’s attention followed by you lovingly picking them up and removing them from the armchair they are scratching away on. Chances are they are scratching your special chair because it smells like you and they are just trying to mix their scent with yours. Isn’t that sweet! Try moving a scratch pole next to the area they love to go to town on as an acceptable alternative. Repeat this process and soon you will only need the whistle followed closely by your cat going straight for the scratch pole every time!
3. Pawsitive Reinforcement
Now that you are seeing pawsitive results from deterring and correcting certain behaviors it’s time to show your kitty some appreciation! As your cat begins to adjust their misbehavior to preferred behavior, they are putting in hard work that you as their owner should be recognizing. When we break a bad habit we often look and hope for some type of reward at the end of the tunnel, right? Like us, our sweet kitties need positive reinforcement to rest assured they are doing it “correctly” (until they get used to it) and to promote listening/learning for the future. For example, my boy kitty, Blue, is a great cat in all ways but one – he never really learned to “squat” in the litter box, and when he pees his aim is always towards the wall. We tried several types of boxes, had the vet check for medical issues, and used other deterrents to fix his ‘direction’. What ended up working best is noticing when he squats and praising the heck out of him as he pees. He really soaks it up, and the wanted behavior becomes more frequent. Try one of the positive reinforcements below with your kitty.
- extra loving
- time playing with them
- cat nip
4. Nature vs Nurture
By nature, cats scratch, climb, and hunt so when we can provide activities and opportunities that allow for these behaviors in an acceptable manner it’s a big win for your kitty. In addition to easing their natural instincts we as cat owners should spend time actively playing and engaging with our cats part of every day. As we play with our kitties those natural instincts can kick in, and gentle play can turn intense quickly. To avoid playtime escalation, use many different toys to keep changing their focus and avoid letting them latch onto YOU. If your cat starts to play forcefully give them a toy and remove yourself from playtime. Not engaging in the aggressive behaviors will signal to your cat it is unacceptable. See the list below for a few ways to nurture their natural instincts in your home.
- Window watching perch
- Mouse or bird-like toys
- Climbing tower
5. Litter Box 101
Luckily there have been cat owners who have gone before us and discovered a few rules of thumb when it comes to litter box etiquette. If you are having trouble getting your cat to consistently use the litter box you provide it is possible that one of these faithful rules is being missed even if only by a hair, literally. Proper litter box etiquette is as follows.
- One box per cat plus one. Ex. 1 cat = 2 boxes; 2 cats = 3 boxes; 3 cats = 4 boxes
- Each box should be 1.5 times the length of your largest cat.
- Scoop 2x/day and change litter fully once a week; clean the box thoroughly before adding the new litter.
In addition, just like you might have a preference in toilet paper, your cat may prefer one litter over another. For example, one of my cats will ONLY use a Breeze System litter box; my other three cats are very happy with their regular litter box with The World’s Best Cat Litter. Just like with a pet’s food, you can’t change a cat’s litter abruptly. Introduce any new litter slowly, mixing it in with their regular litter and slowly changing the ratio until they are comfortable with the new smell and feel. There are always exceptions to the rules, but these three tips are an excellent starting point for any cat owner. Your kitty will thank you for the extra box, the spacious room, and clean litter.
No matter where you are in your cat parenting journey you can stary implementing these 5 steps today! Create a happier, more harmonious household for you and your kitties by using corrective behaviors, understanding their nature and where you can nurture that. Don’t forget to breathe before redirecting and always reward good behavior. Simple tweaks to their environment like using the appropriate number and size of litter boxes and providing useful alternatives for their natural habits will make all the difference in your feline occupied home. Have you tried other cat training techniques that work for you and your fur baby? Let us know in the comments below!
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