When training your cat, it is important to understand that, unlike dogs, cats do not have hierarchical social structures. A dog will obey your commands because it sees you as the “alpha dog” of its pack and naturally wants to please you. A cat, on the other hand, will do what you want it to do if it believes that it will receive a reward for its behavior.
In the wild most of a cat’s “training” comes from the cat’s mother and takes place when the cat is a kitten.
When you train your kitten or cat, you are taking on the role of Mother Cat.
You can reward your cat with praise, play or physical affection.
Food rewards should be avoided. A cat can become addicted to certain foods and refuse to eat other foods. As most cat treats do not provide all the nutrients for a balanced diet, this can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
You can punish a cat by spraying it with a water pistol. This should only be done if the cat is engaging in a dangerous activity – such as attempting to chew through an electrical wire – and needs to be stopped immediately.
Avoid punishing a cat unless it is absolutely necessary. If you punish the cat frequently, the cat will simply avoid you, which will make training impossible.
If you don’t want your cat to jump up on a table, dresser or other pieces of furniture, place double-sided tape on the furniture. Placing aluminum foil down will also help, as cats don’t like the feeling of aluminum foil under their paws.
Cats do not usually like the smell of citrus and will avoid objects and places with that smell.
The best way to train a cat is to take a natural cat behavior and slowly modify it.
How to Stop Scratching on Furniture
Scratching on furniture is an extension of normal feline behavior. In nature, cats will scratch on trees and other vertical objects to sharpen their claws and mark their territory.
To prevent your cat from scratching on furniture, place a scratching post in a prominent place and reward the cat when it uses the scratching post.
Placing cat toys near the scratching post will reward the cat by giving it an opportunity to play by itself after it is done scratching. You can buy a cat “play area” with scratching posts, toys and climbing areas. (A kitten should be supervised when playing.)
Cats naturally bury their waste.
Training a cat to use a litterbox simply consists of showing the cat where the litterbox is and then placing the cat in it in the litterbox once, after the cat is eaten, so the cat knows where the litterbox is and what it is for.
The cat should then use the litterbox automatically every time it needs to defecate or urinate.
Make sure that your cat can easily get in and out of the litterbox. If you have a tiny kitten, you can substitute a small food dish for a litterbox.
The size of the litterbox should increase as the cat grows.
Older cats can develop arthritis, making it difficult for them to get in an out of the litterbox. If you have an older cat, periodically check that it is not having trouble getting into or out of the box. You may have to get a litterbox with lower sides, attach a ramp to the box or lift your cat in and out of the box.
If your cat urinates or defecates outside the box, it is often a sign of a medical problem.
Urinating and defecating outside the box can be a sign that your cat is under a great deal of stress.
Cats may urinate or defecate outside the box if they are not comfortable in the box, find it difficult to get in or out of the box, they do not like the litter, or they think that the box is too dirty and needs to be cleaned – if your cat does this, your cat is training you!
If you have more than one cat, and they are healthy and get along, they can share a litterbox. Make sure that there is enough room for all of them and that you keep the box clean. The more cats you have, the more often you will have to clean it.
An unneutered male cat may spray your furniture, your carpet or our curtains. It is useless to attempt to punish the cat for this behavior, as it is a very strong natural instinct. To prevent spraying, and to avoid your cat from having fights with other male cats, which can lead to serious injury and infection, you should have your cat neutered.
Toilet Training Your Cat
Some cats can be trained to use the toilet.
Many people argue that this is healthier for the cat, as well as for the human who would otherwise have to clean cat feces and urine from a litter box.
Some people say that the smell of feces in a litter box can cause a cat a great deal of stress, because in the wild, a cat will use its feces to mark the boundary between its territory and the territory of another cat, so the smell of feces marks a “danger zone”.
Toilet training a cat involves moving the litter box on top of the toilet seat, then slowly transitioning the cat from relieving itself in the box to relieving itself directly into the toilet.
This is an example of training a cat by gradually modifying natural behavior.
Cats can be trained to walk on leashes. Some breeds, such as the Ocicat, particularly enjoy walking on leashes.
Be sure to get a harness and leash that is specifically designed for cats. A cat, with its super-flexible spine, can easily squirm out of a dog harness and leash.
You should give your cat at least a few days to get used to wearing the leash around the house. Do not hold on to the leash.
Later, you can hold on to the leash while standing with your cat. If the cat tries to run away from you, hold the leash so it cannot break away, but do not attempt to force your cat to go anywhere. Let it do whatever it wants, as far as the leash will let it.
Always praise your cat when it behaves calmly while it is wearing the leash.
Eventually, you can try walking while holding the leash. Walk very slowly, and if the cat seems agitated, stop and wait for the cat to calm down. Praise and pet the cat when it is calm. Never punish the cat for behaving in an excited or agitated manner. If you punish the cat, it will refuse to go on the leash.
A cat can be trained to perform tricks like giving you a paw, fetching an object or jumping over a low obstacle.
Training a cat to do a trick takes a great deal of patience.
Divide the trick into gradual steps and reward the cat each time it successfully completes a step.
Remember that the cat will not do the trick unless it believes that it will receive a reward for doing so.