How to train your cat

A lot of people ask, ‘how do I train my cat?’ The answer is simple. You can’t. However, you can modify their behaviour and ‘appear’ to train them. Always remember, our cats train us not the other way around and it’s up to us to break out of these unseen bonds and take back our independence!

Every time your cat does something naughty or unwanted, take a few moments and think. Is there something I could have done to prevent this? Have I unwittingly shown my cat that it is ok to behave like this?

Sometimes it’s hard to think like a cat, but that is what we must do if we are to understand why they are acting the way they do.

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Skylar sitting in the rubbish box

My cat eliminates outside the litter tray

Cat’s have an excellent sense of smell – far better than ours. Is the tray cleaned often enough? Is it rinsed out well so there are no overpowering chemical smells left over from any cleaning products used? Have I changed the type of  litter recently? Is the tray big enough? Is it too high for an older cat?

My cat climbs up on the kitchen counter all the time

Are there food scraps left on the counter? Has the cat got any other high places to climb onto – tops of wardrobes, cupboards etc. to satisfy their need to climb? Have I given the cat attention, perhaps when it was smaller, when it climbed on the counter?

My cat tears the furniture

Has the cat got a suitable scratching post or pad available? Is the scratching post attractive to my cat – do I need to make it attractive to my cat? Is another cat ‘blocking’ my cat from using the post by marking it as their territory?

My cat follows me to the kitchen begging for food every time

Is my cat hungry? Have I ‘trained’ my cat to ask for food by offering treats whenever it miaows? Do I normally feed the cat in the kitchen?

Questions, Questions, Questions

By looking for and finding the answers to these questions – and many more – we can begin to understand why our cats act the way they do. After this, we can start to put a plan in place to modify the unwanted behaviour and change it to behaviour that we can happily live with.

Heathcliffe and Jinx no longer climb onto the kitchen counters all the time. I stopped giving them a reason to climb up there. I cleared other window ledges in the house as they liked looking out the kitchen window. I removed the fruit bowl – they thought the apples were balls for playing with. I stopped giving them any attention when they were on the counters – I gave them treats only when they were on the floor, if they went onto the counters I put the treats away. I cleared off the desk so they could sit on there instead.

There are usually answers if we are prepared to look for them.

Skylar still loves sitting on the kitchen counters – I really must stop kissing him when he’s up there!

 

 

Jinx’s Story

I’ve had Jinx since she was about seven weeks old. My son-in-law and daughter found her abandoned at the side of a road, sitting in a puddle.

They scooped her up. She weighed next-to-nothing and was obviously very ill. A trip to the vet confirmed that she was very ill with pneumonia. I told them to put her in a cage in my house so that my dog couldn’t hurt her before I finished work.

I opened the door and there she was. Clinging to the side of the cage miaowing pitifully. I had outdoor cats but no indoor cats at the time so I straightened her blanket, scooped out the tiny litter tray and picked her up.

Her purring was deafening even over the raspy sound of her struggling to breathe. My family had fed her and made her as comfortable as they could before they left but my heart bled for this poor little mite.

Another trip to the vet the following day brought the sad news that she was so young it was unlikely that she would get over her illness.

I was determined. I had already fallen in love with her and she was going to be given the best care I could give her. If she died, at least I would know that I had tried my best for her.

A week later I took her back to the vet for more treatment. The vet scooped her up and popped her onto the scales. She had gained a few ounces! Her eyes were clearer and her breathing was less laboured but I still held my breath as the vet listened to her lungs.

Her lungs were a lot better! She was still very ill and had developed an asthma-like wheeze. More antibiotics.

Two weeks later she had here final check-up. The vet told me that she probably wouldn’t grow much as she had had such a poor start in life but apart from an intermittent cough, that lasted six months, she was now in good health and would soon be ready to be neutered.

I was ecstatic. I hadn’t dared to hope that she would survive long term. After three weeks of living with me and my dog, she was a much loved member of the family. She still slept in her cage at night but during the day, she had the run of the house with the dog.

Poor Max! He tolerated her (he was a golden Labrador retriever) and despite her following him everywhere, sitting on him, biting and chewing his ears and chasing his tail, he never once even growled at her.

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Max playing with his pal Portley

The years passed and my beautiful kitten turned into a gorgeous cat. The vet was right about her growth being stunted but she’s not tiny, just petite.

Max died and Jinx missed him terribly. Eventually I gave in and allowed my daughter to convince me that her friend’s kitten would be perfect.

Skylar arrived and the fun began! Jinx is a playful cat and she was well able to keep up with a crazy kitten. She prefers alone time and sleeps hidden away under furniture or in boxes but when the mood takes her, she chases Skylar all over the house. He’s twice as big as her now but she doesn’t take any notice of that and is not above hitting him on the nose if he annoys her. She won’t play fight with him as she knows he’s too big but she brings toys to him when she wants a game and Skylar always obliges.

When I think back to that tiny shivering kitten, I know I made the right decision when I decided that I was going to do everything I could to keep her alive. She will always be my baby cat – even though she’s going to be nine this year!

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Why is my cat so vicious?

This is a question I am often asked. There are a lot of reasons why cats turn on their owners and the most common reason is the owner!

Kittens learn how to behave from their mother and littermates. If kittens are taken away too soon, they miss out on some vital training. Through play they learn the consequences of over-rough play. Overly enthusiastic biting and scratching is rewarded with either the same being done to the rougher kitten or the game being suspended or finished. The kitten soon learns that he must moderate his behaviour if he wants to continue having fun.

When kittens are old enough to be taken from their mothers they should be properly socialised at this stage. Now it’s up to you, the owner, to continue the training.

Illness and Stress

If your cat is normally quiet and gentle the first thing you need to consider is if the cat is ill or stressed. Cats hide illness and stress very well and a trip to the vet is a good idea to rule out any hidden problems.

Pain can cause aggression. Once again a trip to the vet is necessary especially if you have no idea what might be causing the pain.

Cats are more sensitive then we may think. Simple things could cause them stress – a new pet, a new baby, house renovations, new furniture – the list goes on.

If the cat is frightened or stressed the natural reaction is to either run or defend itself. If the cat feels cornered – for example when you realise that something is wrong and go to comfort your cat – the cat may lash out. You get a fright and this stresses the cat even more.

The best thing to do if your cat gets stressed is to leave it alone and wait for it to come to you. Keep your voice soft and, if you can make eye contact with the cat, give it lots of slow blinks to show the cat that you are not a threat.

Playtime

A new kitten is a great source of fun. Kittens are so playful that it is very easy to over-stimulate them. Playing is an important part of a cat’s life but there must be boundaries.

Tiny kittens are very sweet and rough play with spitting, growling, biting and scratching can be very amusing. How can something so tiny be so ferocious? Unfortunately, adult cats are not so amusing when they are playing rough and can even be dangerous.

To keep your cats as cuddly and gentle as possible, it is up to you, the owner, to set boundaries.

If your cat is already aggressive, there are still some things you can do to modify its behaviour. Using fishing rod-like toys that keep your hands and feet well away from the cat while playing, can teach the cat that it can have fun without savaging you. Some cats love chasing a laser dot. This again removes you from the danger zone while allowing the cat to have its fun.

Stroking and Petting

Cats have different tolerance levels for the amount of stroking and petting they are willing to put up with. We love our cats and our natural reaction is to reach out and touch them. Some cats are happy to accept all our fussing over them while others may only be able to cope with small doses at a time.

Some cats have parts of their bodies that are more sensitive than others – paws, tummies etc. Time and patience is needed to help the cat overcome these sensitivities but it must be remembered, that all cats are individuals and some may never get used to it.

Reducing Aggression

To reduce aggression you need to get to know your cat and to learn to understand its wants and needs. By doing this, you will open up the means to help your cat live a fuller, healthier and happier life. It will increase the bond between you and your pet and improve harmony in your home.