One of the most common cat behavior problems is unwanted scratching. Scratching is a normal cat behavior and necessary to keep claws in good condition. Therefore, the real problem facing cat owners is how to train a cat to scratch only where the owners want them to. This article gives some examples on how to redirect a cat’s problem scratching by using their sense of smell and personal preferences along with positive reinforcement. Read on to learn how to train your cat where to scratch with positive reinforcement.
Many owners experiencing a cat scratching problem do not realize that cats need a place where they are allowed to scratch. Unaware of this, they have not provided an area such as a scratching post. If you have not done so already, providing pet cats with a place where they are allowed to scratch is the first step.
Pick the right post
Even if you have provided your pet with a scratching post, perhaps you don’t have one your cat likes. Cats can have individual preferences in what they like to scratch. Take note of the height, shape, material, and color of objects your pets tend to scratch. You may need more than one post to satisfy multiple cats.
Pick out a scratching post or toy that is the right size and shape for the individual animal. A large cat may want to stretch out while scratching and may to ignore a post that’s too short, even if the post worked for the same cat as a kitten. Some cats like to reach upward, some stretch forward, some like both. Your cat may prefer a flat surface, a curved one, or both.
Cat scratching toys can be made of different materials and your pet may have a preference in material. Cats have been seen to scratch old and new carpet, rugs, furniture, wood, window screen, and more. Scratching toys can be made of carpeting, wood, twine, emery board like material, and more. If your pet seems to like a certain material, try one made of the same or similar material that the cat seems to be scratching most.
Your pet may prefer a certain color. Cats may see color differently than we do, but cats can see differences in color. Material, shape, and size will probably be bigger factors in your cat’s preference but if yours seems to be scratching materials of a certain color, get a scratching post toy that color.
Check a store’s return policy. You may be able to try out a variety of scratching products and return them if needed. Be patient, it may take some time for your pet to get used to the new post.
You can make or modify a scratching post. Your cat may have already ruined a rug, a section of carpet, or part of the furniture. If you’re going to replace the ruined item, you can save the old fabric and make it into a scratching post with scrap wood or add it to an existing post. Varied scratching surfaces can provide added interest.
If you have a scratching post that a cat is not using or has lost interest in, there might not be anything wrong with it. You might just need to train your cat your cat to use the toy and not the furniture. Try training before replacing the post.
Place the post
Place the scratching toy or post in an area the cat visits regularly. Choose an area where the cat feels comfortable. If placed next to furniture that should not be scratched, there may be accidents.
Train the cat to use the scratching post
The next step is training the pet to use the designated scratching area only and not the furniture or other places where scratching is not allowed. There are many ways to train a cat to scratch only in the designated area with positive reinforcement. One way train a cat to scratch in the designated area is to rub catnip on the scratching area to attract the cat’s interest. Not all cats like the smell of catnip so food or treats can also be placed on or fed near the scratching area. Be sure to pick food or treats that your cat likes. Clicker training can be paired with treats at the post. By using positive reinforcement, the cat will learn to associate positive feelings with being near the scratching area. This is important if the cat is to like using it.
Reward the cat for using the preferred scratching areas. Play with the cat around the post to get the cat’s paws onto the post and encourage scratching. Playing can reduce stress. Avoid using punishment, force, or yelling when training the cat to use a scratching post or toy. Added stress can slow training down and they may learn to fear the area instead.
Train the cat with smell
Smells can be an important factor in cat training. Cats have scent glands in their paws which leave a smell on previously scratched areas. You might not be able to smell what your cat smells but a smell can attract a cat to clawing at a certain area and increase the desire to scratch.
If you reuse the fabric from previously ruined furnishings, this smell can continue to attract cats to the material. If you don’t reuse the fabric from previously scratched furnishings, you can transfer the smell from the old material onto the new post, but do not rub the new post directly against your furnishings. Some scratching toys are infused with catnip. You don’t want your current couch or other furniture to smell like catnip and confuse the cat. Instead, take a rag and rub it against a previously scratched area, then rub the rag onto the new scratching post.
The smell of catnip can help attract your cat to a desired scratching area but the smell can lessen over time. Try adding the scent of fresh catnip to the scratching area if your cat seems uninterested at first or loses interest in the future. Even if catnip does not affect your cat, remember that scents can affect the cat’s desire to use the area. This is something to take into consideration if you ever have to clean the post.
Clean the old scratching areas
There may be a smell on the old, off limits area that attracted your cat. It may be the scent left by the cat from previous scratching, spraying, or a different scent you may or may not be able to smell. Clean the area with an enzymatic cleaner designed to remove pet odors. Remember to spot test first.
Train the cat not to use the old areas
There are products specifically designed to deal with cat behavior problems. You can buy sticky paper to hang on furniture or use double sided tape to get your cat to stop scratching the furniture or a certain area. Be sure not to hang long strips that a cat may become tangled in. Orange peels can be an effective deterrent for some cats as many do not like the smell of orange peels. Just as some smells can attract cats, some smells can repel them.
Some owners use additional deterrents to train their cats where not to scratch. One deterrent is a spray bottle with water. Water gently squirted in the cat’s direction may deter the cat from scratching an unwanted area. Noise can also be a deterrent. The noise generated by shaking a container of coins or making other rattling sounds can be another effective means of cat control. Be sure to time deterrents when your cat is actively scratching an unwanted area only. Do not use them when you think the cat might scratch an area or after the pet has stopped to avoid confusing the animal. Also note that deterrents are negative reinforcement and may cause stress. Stress can increase a cat’s scratching behavior.
Cat claw care
A cat’s nails can be trimmed with cat nail trimmers to reduce the cat’s need to remove old claws. If you train your cat where to scratch, you may be able to reduce or eliminate the need to trim your cat’s nails by hand. Some people use nail caps to reduce the damage done by unwanted scratching, but these are only a temporary solution. As the pet’s nails grow, they will be able to remove them through normal scratching behavior. If your cat is wearing nail caps, they may affect your cat’s normal scratching behavior and may affect training.
Training vs. De-clawing
Training a cat is a better option than de clawing. It cost less to give a cat an allowed place to scratch and train the cat to use it. Also, there are no risks of the surgical side effects that can come with declawing surgery. Contrary to what some believe, declawing, or onychectomy, is not like trimming fingernails. It is the removal of the last joint which the claw grows on and with any surgery, there is risk of infection. When cats walk, pressure is put on the area. A cat may stop using the litter box while they heal as litter can irritate their paws. A possible side effect of declawing surgery is that it might not heal well and can leave the cat in pain when walking. De-clawed cats have lost a way to defend themselves against aggressive cats or other animals and are in more danger from other animals if let outside. Some cats don’t seem to realize that they have no claws and swats of their paws are not an effective defense against animals who may harm them. Some resort to biting instead of a swipe with the paw. A bite can result in a more serious injury than an injury from the cat’s claws. If you’re considering declawing, be well informed of the risks of the surgical procedure before making the decision. Try training your cat first.
Just as with dogs and other animals, training and patience can effectively deal with cat behavior problems. You can train a cat where to scratch. Many cat owners have been able to successfully train their cat using positive reinforcement. However what has worked for other cats might not work for yours if you forget to take into account your cat’s sense of smell and personal preferences. Give training a chance to work with problems due to your cat’s scratching behavior. Try to redirect a cat’s problem scratching towards a desired scratching area with positive reinforcement.
Information provided by various pet trainers
Information provided by various animal shelters
Information provided by various vets
Talking to cat owners about what has worked
Resources for pet owners :
Many local animal shelters can provide free advice and training tips for cats as well as dogs. Some offer pet training and sell pet related items such as pet toys and scratching posts.