How to Train a Cat

Maybe your cat used your brand new couch as a scratching post again, or maybe for whatever reason it just can’t figure out what the litter box is for, and you’re tired of cleaning up after it. Whatever obnoxious or mischievous behavior your cat has done to turn you to cat training, know that the experience can be a very positive one both for the animal and the owner when done correctly.

No matter what breed of cat you own, effective training starts with the simple understanding that cats learn by experience and respond best to positive reinforcement. Often, cats continue to misbehave for this very reason, because owners unintentionally reinforce their cat’s bad behavior. Here are some pointers on training your cat the right way, as well as some common mistakes to avoid.

Cat Training Basics

There are several basic tasks that cats should be trained to do. They include:

  • Using the litter box
  • Using a scratching post instead of furniture
  • Not waking you up at all hours of the night
  • Learning to not bite and claw when playing

Strategies

Owners need to train themselves before they can train their cats. This means learning patience and the importance of repetition. Once you train yourself, training a cat is easy. Here are some basic cat training problems and how to resolve them:

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  1. Not using the litter box. One common mistake many owners make is to scold their cat and drag it to the litter box after the cat has already gone to the bathroom. This teaches the cat to associate the litter box with punishment. Until your cat is properly trained, confine your cat to a single room every time you leave the house. In the room, place water and a bed on one side, and the litter box on the other. Your cat will eventually learn with repetition. Also important: make sure the litter box is clean. Think about the last time you walked into a public restroom and someone didn’t flush the toilet. Did you want to use it? Neither does your cat.
  2. Nocturnal behavior. Another common mistake many owners make is to give into their cat’s naturally instinctive nocturnal playtime by getting up and feeding their pet, letting the cat outside or playing with it. Reverse your cat’s playtime by playing with it as much as possible during the day. Like children, they need to be worn out so they’re not up all night.
  3. Scratching furniture. Just as humans need to file their nails, so do cats. As a temporary solution, confine your cat to an area where it can’t get into trouble and stock it well with a variety of scratching posts and climbing posts. With nothing else to scratch, your cat will eventually learn by process.
  4. Rambunctious behavior. Cats are natural predators, so biting and scratching is acceptable to them until you tell them it’s not. As a solution, know your cat’s limits. How many minutes does it take for your cat to get annoyed before it bites or scratches you? Don’t instigate him by continuing the attention. If this happens, scream “Ouch!” and walk away. Ignoring them is a powerful punishment, since cats love to play. After a while, they’ll know not to behave this way anymore.

Professional Pet Trainers

Cats are much more independent animals than dogs and, therefore, are not as easy to train when it comes to advanced tricks, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. For example, cats can be trained to sit, according to animal trainer Anne Gordon in her book Show Biz Tricks for Cats. If you want to turn your cat into a star, this is when it’s best to turn to the pros, or at least their books.

For the most part, though, training a cat yourself can be most advantageous, as you can save a lot of time and money, rather than using trainers. There are several cat training aids to help you. They include:

  • Cat training collars
  • Scratching posts
  • Toys
  • Cat training books

Again, the most important thing to keep in mind is to be patient and practice, practice, practice. Understand that your cat is just being a cat, but they’re also not much different than people: they need positive reinforcement and assurance when they do a good deed, which, in turn, will give them the motivation to practice better behavior.