How to Train Cats to Scratch Only Where They Should


People who are into “bucket lists” usually do not include scratched sofas, carpets, and chairs as must-haves on them.

Unfortunately, some folks respond to furniture scratching by having their cats declawed or surrendering the cats to shelters. This is unnecessary and tragic. Although cats instinctually scratch, they can be trained to bypass the household furniture and focus on objects designed specifically for them.

I created an infographic that is all about scratching behaviors. It also includes steps on how to train cats to scratch the appropriate objects instead of their people’s furniture.

Although the infographic illustrates the basics, reward-based training systems, such as clicker training, in conjunction with the suggestions in the illustration will help save your sofas and carpets — without punishing, yelling at, or declawing cats.

Scratching is a natural behavior

Scratching is a universal behavior that all cats naturally do. Even declawed cats have to scratch surfaces. In addition to giving themselves perfect manicures, cats have other reasons for the behavior.

Here are four other reasons cats scratch:

  1. Cats mark and define their territories when they scratch. The bottoms of their paws have scent glands, so every time they scratch, a little bit of information is stamped on the surface they are targeting. In addition to the pheromones, or scent that is deposited, scratching leaves visual sign posts.
  2. Scratching is also a stress reliever — when cats feel anxious, they will often scratch. They will also scratch when faced with choosing between doing two conflicting behaviors. A bonus is that they are marking their territory at the same time.
  3. Cats will often scratch when they are playing and have sudden bursts of energy. Scratching in the middle of a boisterous play session disperses excess energy and gives the cat a moment to pause while she figures out what her next move will be.
  4. After a refreshing nap, felines enjoy long, fulfilling stretches that are accompanied by scratching.

Cats have to scratch, but they don’t have to scratch your household furniture.

The right scratcher

Cats prefer tall, stationary scratching posts and horizontal scratchers made from material that they can sink their claws into without becoming entangled. Find posts that are tall enough that your kitties can reach up and stretch while scratching them. They also need to be stable so that they do not fall over when cats exuberantly use them. Pieces of plywood can be attached to the bases of wobbly scratching posts to ensure stability. The majority of kitties avoid scratchers that hang from doors — they move too much while being scratched. In addition to tall posts, most cats enjoy exercising their claws on horizontal sisal and corrugated cardboard scratchers as well as creative shapes fashioned out of corrugated cardboard.

The right texture

Most kitties love scratching nubby, coarse surfaces such as sisal and corrugated cardboard, while others enjoy carpet. Carpet isn’t ideal because claws can become entangled in the loops. Also, carpeted posts need to be a completely different texture than the household rugs and carpets. It is hard to encourage cats to avoid scratching rugs that feel the same as the scratching posts.

The right locations

Because cats mark their territories when they scratch, place scratchers strategically in the areas where cats hang out and near their entrances. Felines prefer scratchers in every room they spend time in. Do not put them behind sofas, in closets, or other hidden areas. More kitties mean more scratchers. If you live with more than one cat, give them multiple scratchers.

Encourage scratching

Many cats naturally gravitate to scratching the approved objects — others don’t. You can also jump start cats by playing with them around the scratchers with favorite toys or by scratching the posts with your fingernails.

The antique furniture and oriental rugs can become scratch-free without punishing or declawing cats. You can train felines to bypass the sofas in three steps: Make the furniture and rugs off limits, address the reasons for the scratching, and reinforce scratching the right objects. Clicker training is a very effective method for reinforcing and building good scratching habits.

Some cats quickly change their habits; others take a little longer to catch on. Regardless, the results are long term because cats prefer to scratch the objects they are reinforced and rewarded for scratching.

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Got a cat behavior question for Marilyn? Ask our behaviorist in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. If you suspect a behavioral problem, always rule out any possible medical issues that may be causing the behavior by first having your cat examined by a veterinarian. Marilyn can also help you resolve cat behavior challenges through a consultation.

Marilyn, a certified cat behavior consultant, owner of The Cat Coach, LLC, solves cat behavior problems nationally and internationally through on site, Skype and phone consultations. She uses force free methods that include environmental changes, management, clicker training and other behavior modification techniques.

She is also an award winning author. Her book Naughty No More! focuses on solving cat behavior problems through clicker training and other force-free methods. Marilyn is big on educationÔÇöshe feels it is important for cat parents to know the reasons behind their cat’s behaviors. She is a frequent guest on television and radio, answering cat behavior questions and helping people understand their cats.

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