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Four Tips for Training Your Cat

While cats respond differently than dogs, they're not difficult to train. Here's how to get started.

JaneA Kelley  |  Jan 31st 2013

Somewhere along the line, people got it in their heads that cats are untrainable. Maybe they think that cats are either too dumb or too strong-willed to train because they don’t respond like dogs. But if you understand what motivates cat behavior, you can use that knowledge to train your cat out of bad habits and into good ones. Here’s how.

1. If your cat is misbehaving, see your vet

Many behavior problems can be caused by health problems. Your cat may be urinating outside the box because she has a urinary tract infection. She may be biting or clawing at you when you touch her because she’s in pain.

2. Reinforce good behavior and ignore the bad

Don’t bother trying to punish your cat if she pees on the bed or scratches your furniture. If you give her attention when she misbehaves, you are in a sense rewarding her bad behavior. Punitive behavior like yelling, rubbing your cat’s nose in her waste, or (heaven forbid!) hitting your cat will only scare her and destroy the bond between you. Instead, figure out what motivates your cat (extra-tasty food or treats are good choices) and use her favorite reward when she behaves properly. Be sure to give the treat at the exact moment she’s doing what you want her to.

3. Provide appropriate outlets for natural behavior

Cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy said it best: For every “no,” provide a “yes.” Scratching is natural behavior for your cat, but if she’s scratching your furniture and you don’t want her to, make sure she has something appropriate to scratch. A tall sisal scratching post placed right next to the furniture item she’s scratching makes a great choice. Get her interested in the new post by scratching it with your fingernails or anointing it with catnip. As soon as she scratches on the post, give her a treat and tell her she’s a very good kitty.

4. Clicker training can do wonders

When you combine food rewards with clicker training, you have a recipe for success. Cats relish an intellectual challenge, and clicker training can reduce the boredom that can lead to bad behavior. If you want to learn more about clicker training, cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger wrote an easy-to-understand and well-illustrated book on clicker training called Naughty No More, which can guide you through the basics of working with this technique.

Have you successfully trained your cat? If so, what techniques did you use? Please share your experiences in the comments!