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Need help training your cat? We’ve got you covered!

By on December 8, 2013

Are you a cat person or a dog person?  Usually, people are drawn to one or the other. Dogs were domesticated to be companions for people, while cats were domesticated to catch “vermin.” Cats tend to be self-determining and respond to their people in a much different way than their canine companions.  Some people tend to favor dogs because of their ability to be trained into their version of a perfect four-legged friend.

Contrary to popular belief, cats can be trained.  Training begins by understanding your cat, focusing on your goals, and being consistent.  It is also imperative to realize cats respond to positive reinforcement and behavior modification.  Don’t try to use punishment or reprimands on a cat, it will backfire! Negative reinforcement will produce negative results, so try not to scold kitty while he or she is learning.

Many people don’t try to train their cats as they don’t think it can be done.  Actually, the ASPCA says that training can be helpful for your relationship with your cat as you are stimulating both their body and mind. Cats can get bored and complacent, but training sessions can be beneficial for a happier and healthier cat if you do it correctly.

So, what type of things can you train your cat to do?  Basic canine commands such as sit, stay, and fetch are all possible, in addition to even using the toilet. How awesome is that? The most popular reasons to train your cat include minimizing and/or eliminating destructive scratching and aggressive biting.

Before you begin to train your cat, the Humane Society’s National Web site has some recommendations:

  • Prepare yourself for your new cat.
    • Make sure you have all of the necessary items for your cat ready and waiting to be used.  You want to make the transition from their previous environment to their new home as smooth as possible.  Having food, water, appropriate dishes, a litter box and toys can provide your little four-legged friend comfort.  A scratching post may deter your new cat from damaging furniture or other beloved items.
    • Prepare a space for your new pet.  Moving from one place to another can be stressful for the feline.  Upon the initial move, provide a small area for the cat to roam and be comfortable in.  It could be a particular room, or part of a room, where all of your cat’s essentials are.
    • Gradually introduce your cat to the rest of the home and family.  Thrusting your cat into the whole house and being constantly held and cuddled may be overwhelming to a new animal, causing fear and the cat to isolate itself.

Once your cat is acclimated into the family home, take time to get to know their cat’s personality.  Notice what behaviors need to be positively reinforced and which behaviors you would like changed.  The ASPCA recommends the following types of training for your feline friend.  Additionally, keep the training sessions short and be consistent. It may also be beneficial to provide training before you feed your cat so they are more motivated to participate in the training.

  • Tasty treats are by far the yummiest way to reinforce positive behavior in your cat.  Of course, you must figure out what your cat considers to be tasty.  Some good options include chicken or tuna, or tiny commercial treats from the pet store.  Find out what your cat likes. Some like soft, chewy treats while other like hard and crunchy ones. There are also a ton of flavors, so try a few to see what you kitty responds to best.

To utilize this form of training, start by simply getting and keeping your cat’s attention.  Let them see and smell the treat and hold it far enough away from them so they are unable to eat it.  Once the cat has performed the wanted behavior, give them the treat.  Cats learn from repetition and if the experience was positive, they will repeat it.  Continue to repeat until your cat has command of the desired behavior and begin to reduce the number or treats that are rewarded and replace by affection or a toy.

  • Clicker training is similar to behavior modification and can be done relatively quickly.  Simply click the clicker (or a ball point pen) whenever the cat does the desired behavior, followed by a treat.   Limit the amount of clicks during a session to less than 20.  Your cat will associate the click with the desired behavior.

Stop destructive scratching.  Cats scratch.  It is normal and innate to them. To stop your cat from scratching your furniture and walls, you must tune into them.  Why are they scratching?  Are they bored? Excited? Stretching?

Obviously, you want to deter your cat from scratching in an unwanted area.  Spray that area with a menthol or citrus scent as both are olfactory deterrents.  If that is not an option, cover up the area with something your cat will not like, such as sandpaper, or sticky tape.

Provide an appropriate and cat-friendly place to scratch.  Purchase a scratching post or make your own scratch box with wood and carpet.  Place it where your cat likes to scratch and reward your pet for scratching appropriately.

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Train your cat to stop biting.  Again, begin by paying attention to your cat’s behavior.  When do they bite? Is there a specific person they bite?  Often your cat is trying to tell you something with their body language.  If you don’t pick up on their cues, they use their only available actions- clawing or biting.

Reinforce positive and gentle behavior during play sessions.  Once your cat bites or becomes aggressive, end the play time.  Remember, cats learn by repetition and they want the interactive play.  While deterring your cat from biting you or a family member, it is imperative to provide them with something appropriate to bite into.  Provide durable cat toys, play tug of war, and let your car practice their pouncing and pretend they are the predators they were meant to be!

If your cat continues to bite, even with play sessions, find a spray bottle and give them a quick water squirt.  This is a safe and easy deterrent for them and an unpleasant reminder that biting you is not an option.

The internet is full of ideas on properly training your cat.  Some are founded while others may not be.  Use caution and follow the advice of reputable professionals.  In Omaha, we are fortunate to have a large number of experts to assist you in properly training your feline friend.  Take a peek through our sponsors listed on our page, or contact the Nebraska Humane Society.  Don’t forget to talk frankly with your vet if you continue to have behavior or training concerns.

Good luck training your kitty and check back with PetsInOmaha as we continue to provide helpful tips and tricks on training!

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