My husband insists that cats have a mind of their own and that can’t be taught to do anything they don’t want to do. Although it may seem that way at times, it isn’t really true. Cats, like dogs, enjoy pleasing their owners and even the worst behavior problems in cats can be solved if you work at it consistently.
Our 8-year-old cat likes to climb up on the bed beside me when I am reading. It isn’t that she is craving attention from me as much as she just likes to be there with me. The problem begins when she decides to check out her spot next to me by turning around and around and pawing at the bed, and at me, over and over before settling down so that we can both relax.
For a long time, I endured this ritual, but it seemed to get longer every day. Finally, I started telling her, “No scratching,” in a calm but firm voice. When she continued, I told her again, and then, if the behavior continued I put her off the bed and out of the room.
The next day, and the next, the routine was repeated. Finally, she began to get the idea. On the 4th day, she jumped on the bed beside me and started to turn around. Then she looked at me and tentatively stretched out one paw to test her spot before lying down. I said, “No scratching,” in my usual voice and she pulled her paw back and laid down.
I could tell she wasn’t pleased with having her actions curtailed, but she decided she preferred giving up some of her usual pre-relaxation actions to being banned from the room.
Did that solve the problem? Not completely. Every few days she tested me again to see whether or not I had changed my mind. I hadn’t, but the words, “No scratching,” reminded her that there were limits that she had to respect if she wanted to retain her spot beside me on the bed.
I have found that most instances of problem behavior with our cat can be solved by following this rule of consistency. It includes a few simple steps, but is well worth the time it takes.
1. Work on just one behavior problem at a time.
If you are always correcting your cat, it will become frustrated and decide it isn’t interested in pleasing you after all. Only when one behavior problem has been overcome should you move on to another.
2. Don’t yell at your misbehaving cat..
It may seem like yelling is the only thing that works for a particular behavior problem, but most cats just react to yelling by running out of the room and continuing the misbehavior somewhere else, or later.
3. Choose one or two words to use in correcting the problem.
Your cat will only be confused if you use words like “No, No,” one time, and “Stop,” or
“Don’t Do That” the next. I like to use the word “No,” following by a one-word description of the action. If your cat hears the same words each time he does something you don’t want him to do, he will eventually connect the two things in his mind. Make sure others in the household also use the same words that you use for the same
4. Try Not to Let Anything Stop You from Following Through
Remember that the key to correcting behavior problems in your cat is consistency. Choose your reaction to a particular problem carefully, and then carry it out every single time the problem arises. If you are busy, stop what you are doing and follow through if at all possible. A smart cat (and most cats are smarter than we give them credit for) will soon realize when they can get away with something and choose that time to do it…
5. Reward your cat when he or she responds to your commands.
Petting your animal or praising it for obeying will show that forsaking a particular behavior can bring even more pleasure than the misbehavior might. A special treat once in a while after the cat minds a command wouldn’t hurt, either.
6. Expect relapses.
Don’t give up when your cat decides to test you by repeating previous bad behavior. Simply start using the same words and actions you used to stop the behavior the first time around.
Cats are wonderful companions and, like children, prefer love and acceptance rather than constant warfare. It’s up to those of us who have chosen to own a cat, to train them to behave in a way that makes obtaining that love and acceptance easier for them to receive.