Cats much less interested in the training game. There are behaviors we don’t want to encourage in cats; in a sense, we need to “train” them not to do these things. It is really a process of communication but, unlike dogs, cats don’t get as involved with your enthusiasm and praise. It helps to remember that both cats and dogs are gamblers.
Cats much less interested in the training game
Research shows that if they are positively rewarded for a behavior as little as one time in 20 tries, they may continue the behavior. They’re willing to gamble on the reward despite the long odds. This is what you’re up against in trying to get a cat to change its behavior. If you don’t want kitty on the counter, but every once in a while when she gets up there she finds food, that jackpot will motivate her to try again at least another 15 or 20 times. On the other hand, negative consequences (being pushed away, told “no,” not finding any food there) often have to be much more consistent to condition a cat than a dog.
Because of this, your training efforts are best spent in making sure your animal is never rewarded for undesirable behaviors. Don’t pick your cat up to remove her from the counter, admonishing her sweetly and scratching her affectionately in the process. Avoid the temptation to say yes now and then when you really should say no.
Another effective technique is to channel your animal’s behavior into a rewarding direction. Give her a treat whenever she earns it. Or consistently greet her with affection when she jumps on your lap in appropriate times and places, like when you’re stretched out in your easy chair in the evening. Provide her with an appealing scratching post (see below) and some toys for pouncing. Most cats behave much better if you create suitable outlets for their energy.
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Dr. Tasi: Cats in the wild need to kill about nine mice a day to meet their caloric needs. For each mouse successfully caught, there are probably two or three chase sequences that don’t end with a catch. Thus, hardwired into the brain of the carnivorous predator that all cats are is the need for about 27 chase sequences per day. All cat play is modified hunting behavior, so our goal as attentive guardians should be to help the cat have somewhere near this mental/physical quotient of activity. I tell folks two 10-minute play periods per day probably get most cats up to this number of chase sequences. Play is the single thing most often missing in cats’ lives.
Scratching and Biting: What to Do
A common training problem with cats is teaching them not to scratch your carpets, drapes, and furniture. If we realize that this scratching is part of normal cat behavior, then the obvious thing to do is provide a way for this to happen that is safe for our furnishings.
Dr. Tasi: Cats need a favored scratching substrate in every room of the house. Having an excellent scratching post in the living room will not prompt a cat upstairs in the bedroom, when it is thinking about scratching, to think “Hey, let me run down a flight of stairs and go scratch that thing in the living room.” Nope, the cat will go to town on the end of your brand new fancy mattress and bedspread.
One of the most universally favored scratching substrates, which comes in all shape and sizes, both vertical and horizontal, is cardboard, and these products are inexpensive compared to many others. You can find many choices by searching “cardboard cat furniture” online.
If you would like to make your own post, nail an untreated four by four (2 to 3 feet tall) to a base of half-inch plywood about 16 inches square. Then wrap the post with sisal rope or a piece of carpeting turned inside out to expose the rough side (posts with soft coverings are not sufficiently attractive to most cats). For maximum stability, lean the post up against the corner of a room or tilt it on its side. Make sure the post is secure.
If it falls over and frightens your kitty even once, it may be enough to make her avoid the post altogether.
If your cat needs instructions on the use of a scratching post, simply lay it sideways and place her on top of the post. Scratch the post yourself with one hand and use the other to firmly stroke her neck and back (that will stimulate the urge to scratch). Don’t try to push your cat’s feet against the post, as cats will resist force.
If your pet is still inclined to scratch at the furniture or drapes at times, move the drapes or the chair slightly and put the post in that spot. Move the post gradually and put the furniture back when the cat is actually using the post instead. You may need to cover a corner of the couch or roll up the drapes temporarily until your cat makes the transition. It’s often good to position the scratching post near the spot where your cat sleeps, since many cats like to stretch and scratch on waking from a nap.