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4 Simple Ways to Train Your Cat

Discover the tricks to getting your troublesome kitty to behave with this step-by-step guide to training cats.

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Break Bad Habits

Here are the four key steps to successfully training a cat:

1. Determine the function of the behaviour. Figure out what the “pay off” is for the cat in terms of the benefit he receives. Cats are very smart and they don’t repeat behaviours unless they serve a function. Whether kitty is jumping on tables, chewing plants, peeing on the carpet, biting, etc., the behaviour is providing a pay-off. Perhaps the cat is peeing on the carpet because he’s experiencing a medical problem or maybe the litter box is too dirty. He might be biting because he has learned it’s the only way to get someone to stop holding him. He may jump on a table because it’s the best way to view the outdoor bird feeder. The first step in problem solving is to figure out what the cat gets out of the behaviour. This requires you to put aside any feelings about motivations being rooted in spite, willful destruction, stupidity or stubbornness. Look at the behaviour from the cat’s point of view.

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2. Determine What You Want the Cat To Do Instead

Now that may seem really simple but make sure what you want as the alternative behaviour is appropriate. For example, if your cat is scratching the furniture and you don’t want him to scratch on anything then that’s not realistic. Cats have a natural need to scratch and it’s a vital part of what makes them feline. So the alternative behaviour should be that you want him to scratch on his scratching post.

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3. Make the Alternative Better Than the Original Behaviour

If you don’t want the cat on the table, provide an elevated area that’s even better. If kitty is on the table to see the birds, set up a cat tree by the window. If he’s chewing houseplants, remove them from his reach and then offer some safe kitty greens instead. If the cat is scratching the furniture, provide a tall, sturdy, sisal-covered post that makes the sofa pale in comparison.

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4. Reward the Cat For Behaving

Instead of punishing a cat for displaying unwanted behaviours, let’s reward him for displaying desired behaviours. A treat, praise, petting and playtime are valuable tools that should be standard equipment in your behaviour modification toolbox. In summary, it really all comes down to looking at your environment from your cat’s point of view to make sure you understand what he’s communicating by his behavior. Take a positive approach to set your cat up to succeed and you’ll not only be on the road toward solving current behaviour problems, you’ll be better equipped to avoid future ones.

****** Pam Johnson-Bennett bio: Pam Johnson-Bennett is a certified cat behaviour consultant and the best-selling author of seven books on cat behaviour and training, including her most recent release, the updated and expanded Think Like a Cat (Penguin Books). She is a former board of directors member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and is the founder/former longtime chair of their cat division. She was a member of the American Humane Association’s Advisory Board and is on the Advisory Board of Tree House Humane Society. Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, LLC, a private veterinarian-referred behavior practice in Nashville, TN.