Cats need to be punished?
Occasionally, people tell me I'm too lenient with my cats, and that I have to teach them the hard way to follow my rules. A "little spank" won't do any damage, that's what they say...
Suggestions like these are, of course, absolutely out of question; in fact, they make me really angry! Never, and I do mean never, should a cat be beaten, or been caused any pain!!
A cat is not able to associate its "disobedience" with the pain and the punishment coming from its human. To the cat, it's only a traumatizing experience which it won't understand, and it's causing irreparable damage to the human/feline relationship. It's the same with the - unfortunately - still very popular habit to "cure" litter box problems: to put the cat's nose into the mess. It's traumatizing, and it won't help! In the chapter "Litter Box Problems
, you can read about some better ways to deal with this subject.
So if you think that educating cats means corporal punishment, I have to point out that these methods are animal abuse, and nothing else!!
But how do I train a cat?
Many people do believe cats cannot be "trained" at all, that they would follow their own rules and do only what they like. It's true, but only to a certain degree. Of course you cannot compare cats and dogs: Dogs are pack animals, and they need to follow a "leader". It's different with cats. Our feline friends need to be persuaded that they will benefit from a certain behavior. Since they are no pack animals, we have to encourage them to follow some rules freely. Authoritarian educational methods won't get you very far!
Learning by motivation and encouragement
First you have to realize that in most cases, "undesirable" behavior results from a natural feline behavior pattern, for example scratching on furnitures and wallpapers. It goes without saying that a cat should have a scratching post, but when you catch it scratching another object, you must be consistant and bring the little culprit to its post, and encourage it to scratch there. Give the cat a treat each time it's using the scratching post, so it will learn that there's a positive effect coming from using this item. Especially during the first months of their lives, cats learn quickly and easily! During that stage of life, a kitten should be exposed to as many different situations as possible, and you should train crucial things such as vet visits, medication, grooming, or even brushing the teeth. It is also possible to train older cats well, but it might take longer.
Using treats as a reward (positive reinforcement) is a good way to show your cat that it did something "right" (from the human point of view). It's the same with sweet-talking, petting and playing sessions. But never ever make the mistake to distract a "misbehaving" cat with a treat or a game! The cat will think that its behavior has led to this positive result, and it will do it again.
Yelling and scolding
I have to admit there are moments when you lose your self-control and patience, and then you may scold your cat. But generally spoken, it's better to get by without yelling. It would scare the cat, and felines that have often been yelled at may develop behavioral disorders and fears.
There are moments when a bit of scolding is needed, but it should be enough to speak in a tone that's a bit more resolute than usual. And you should always use the same words, i. e. an insistant "no-no". Cats have the amazing ability to learn human words and associate their correct meaning, and this is something you can benefit from. Besides, never use the cat's name when you're scolding, this should be reserved for the harmonious moments ...
The evil, evil jet of water...
When a cat is stubbornly holding on to a certain unwanted behavior pattern and the methods mentioned above have failed, there's a more drastical measure: When the cat won't stop walking on the kitchen counter, you can use a water pistol and spray the cat with water (but not into the eyes). After a couple of times, the cat will associate this unpleasant incident with the kitchen counter, and stay away from that place. If possible, hide behind a corner to make sure kitty does not see the water jet coming from you.
This method, however, is controversial. I would only consider this if anything else has failed, and only with warm temperatures to prevent colds.
"Feline" educational methods
During the last couple of years, I developed a method a bit unusual, but it works great, especially with kittens. I "copied" some educational methods from the mommy cats, like hissing and growling, and a careful nudge onto the nose with just one finger (instead of a paw). This is an excellent method to calm down over-stimulated kittens, i. e. when they bite your hands while teething or playing. The cat mother would do it the same way when the little ones are getting too wild.
Believe me, you will feel like an idiot when you try growling and hissing for the first time, but the success is encouraging!
When everything fails...
Oh yes, this happens! After all, cats DO have a mind of their own ... Living with cats requires the will to compromise to a certain degree, and sometimes you just have to give in. I. e. when the cat is digging the soil out of the flower pots again and again, you should think about covering the soil with little stones. Or the bunch of dry flowers that's constantly picked to pieces ... maybe it's just better to put it away. Many bad habits will disappear after a while when the cat has lost interest. The first year of a cat's life is the most stressful for humans as during this period, the entire world looks like a huge playground to kitty. Later it will calm down a bit, and the furnishing and interior decoration won't have to suffer that much.
Altogether, my experiences are that there are ways to come to an arrangement with your cat - without punishment!