Behavioral Training For Cats

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Dog owners are so proud of the tricks they’ve taught their beloved pets.  Cat owners can rarely compete in the pet-training arena.  However, cats often need training; not to perform, but to behave in a way that is acceptable to the family with which it resides.

For example if a cat starts scratching on furniture, it needs to be trained to move its scratching instinct from the living room couch to the cat scratching post.

Why Do Cats Misbehave?

Many cat owners comment that their cats know that certain behaviors are frowned upon, but they still do them.  This is because cats often misbehave when bored.   They may be seeking attention or just need to expend some energy.  This can be alleviated by regular play sessions with their owners, being sure this isn’t done immediately after the bad behavior, or the cat could get confused and think of the play as reward for the behavior.

Cats are natural nocturnal animals, so they may become more active at night and start some unwanted behaviors.  To combat this, keep the cat well-exercised during the day with some regular and rigorous play.  This will keep the cat too exhausted to bother his family during their sleeping hours.

Cats are prone to misbehavior during their times in heat if they haven’t been spayed or neutered, especially if confined to the home. 

Changing Cats’ Behavior

The best way to change the behavior of any pet, including cats, is to offer a reward for good behavior.  The reward must be something that the cat prefers to the bad behavior he is currently exhibiting.  The good behavior that the owner is trying to elicit must also be something the cat enjoys.  It’s very difficult to convince a cat to do something it doesn’t want to do.

In the example above, scratching on the scratching post is the good behavior the owner wishes the cat to do instead of scratching the furniture.  This is something the cat will like, as it satisfies his scratching instinct perfectly.  Any time that the cat scratches the post, the owner should give the cat a reward, such as a favored treat or a taste of tuna.  Use something the cat loves.

On the other hand, when the cat scratches the furniture, a strong reprimanded can be used, but no treats should be given until it scratches the post.  A light swat with a newspaper or a squirt of water as punishment for the bad behavior might decrease the cat’s urge to engage in the activity.  This must be done during the bad behavior.  If not, it does no good at all.  Not using punishments at all, but only ignoring the animal for bad behavior and giving rewards for the good behavior also works, perhaps even better than using punishments.  Cats sometimes actually perceive the punishments as attention and increase the frequency of the bad behavior.  Being ignored is a better “punishment” than anything else for cats.

Through this reward only or coordinated reward and ignoring/punishment process, the cat will change his actions based on his memories of what happens after each activity.  Consistency is the key.  Eventually the bad behavior will be eliminated.

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