A gray cat getting a treat.
A gray cat getting a treat. Photography by Jakub Zak/Shutterstock.

Wondering How to Train a Cat? 4 Simple Tips

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Can you train a cat? 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 to train a cat in four easy-to-follow steps:

1. Reinforce good behavior and ignore the bad

If your cat won't eat her favorite treats, she may have toothache.
Training your cat? Use high-value rewards like cat treats. Photography by Milles Studio/Shutterstock.

Don’t 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.

2. 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.

3. Clicker training can do wonders for cat training

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.

4. If your cat is misbehaving, see your vet

Lastly, many behavior problems are caused by health problems. Cats are notoriously good at masking symptoms when they’re sick, so sometimes their health issues show up via inappropriate behaviors. For example, 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. If your cat suddenly starts behaving strangely or doesn’t respond to training, see your vet.

Tell us: Have you successfully trained your cat? If so, what techniques did you use? What did you train your cat to do? What are your tips on how to train a cat? Please share your experiences in the comments!

Thumbnail: Photography by Jakub Zak/Shutterstock.

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2 thoughts on “Wondering How to Train a Cat? 4 Simple Tips”

  1. I trained my first cat to not eat out of people bowls by “hissing” at him when he showed an interest in my food container. The hissing sound is similar to the “tz” sound in pizza. When he finally stopped attempting to get to my food, then I would dip the tip of my finger into the gravy, the cream, or something yummy, and give him a taste. He will come up to my lap when something smells interesting, but he now waits until I offer him some. He no longer shows any interest in the plate, bowl, etc.

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