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How to discipline your cat

As we all know cats and dogs are very different, and many owners will say it is impossible to “train” a cat. Whilst it is true that cats and dogs learn in different ways, it is still possible to gently mould the behaviour of your cat.

Puppies and human babies are easier to train because you can easily get their attention and they will wait for commands, and ultimately, they are looking for your approval. We firstly need to understand that cat’s brains work differently, and their motivations are different. If we can appreciate this, then we go a long way in understanding how best to influence our cat’s behaviours.

Whilst it is easy to highlight the difference between cats and other species, it is also worth noting that all cats are also different, and it might take some trial and error to find what works best for your cat. There is no “right” way, but there are certainly some wrong ways.

Never physically discipline a cat, hitting or restraining a cat will do much more harm than good. The cat will not associate the physical punishment with their act of bad behaviour. Instead, they will just think you are trying to cause them harm and will become distant from you or may try to lash out or retaliate.

Similarly, shouting is also not a good idea. Although shouting or making a loud noise will probably startle your cat into stopping from what they are doing, it will not alter their long-term behaviour. As with physical punishments, they will not associate the shouting with what they were doing, and the loud noises in their home may go on to cause them stress and anxiety.

It is best to set early expectations with a new kitten. While you may find it cute to let them bite or scratch you a little bit when they are playing, you will not like this behaviour when they get bigger and stronger or when they are playing with a child. The best way to deter this behaviour in kittens and cats is to simply walk away when they start to bite. If you remove your attention from them, they will soon learn that this is unacceptable behaviour.

Redirect their attention when they are doing something you do not want them to do; if they are scratching something they shouldn’t, bring them their scratching post instead, reward them with a treat once they have used the scratching post instead.

If your cat ambushes your ankles as you are passing, this could be a sign that they are bored or want more of your attention. Again, distract them with a favourite toy until they have burnt off some energy.

If a cat is chewing something or going somewhere they shouldn’t, you should try to deter them from going into the area. As we know cats have a very keen sense of smell and will usually avoid any areas that smell unpleasant. Cats particularly dislike the smell of eucalyptus and citronella. There are also commercially available deterrent sprays. It has also been noted that cats do not like the feeling of walking on certain surfaces such as aluminium foil and double-sided tape.

So, when you are trialling new methods to teach your cat, you should always remember:

  • Reinforce good behaviour
  • Correct
  • Distract
  • Do not punish
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