What’s The Issue?
Is your cat exhibiting any of the following common behaviors?
- Biting during brushing
- Jumping on the kitchen counter
- Making a dash for the door
- Waking you up in the middle of the night
- Scratching your good furniture
Understand The Motive
Firstly, you need to understand what the motivation is for the particular behavior in question. For example, a cat may jump up onto the kitchen counter either for attention, or because he’s looking for more food. Depending on the reason for the actions they're displaying, a different approach will be required. In the example of your pet walking on work surfaces, if it’s as a result of not being fed enough then simply changing their feeding schedule should resolve the problem.
Managing The Situation
This is the hardest step to take because it requires the whole family to get involved and for you to be prepared and to monitor your cat. In the example used of a cat jumping on to the counter top looking for food, you need to ensure there’s never any food left out for them to find. It may help to think of the attitude of your feline friend in terms of playing the slot machines...if they find food only one out of every ten times they jump up, then it’ll reinforce their bad behavior. They will have learnt that they need to try at least ten times or more for a chance to win. You know when you play the slot machines that you’ll not win every time, but you know you have to keep going to be in with a chance! If your pet jumps up every time you’re preparing dinner, it’s a good idea to keep them amused with a food puzzle whilst you cook.
Avoid The Chain
A pitfall which pet owners’ can unwittingly fall into is inadvertently strengthening unwanted behavior through rewarding them after that particular action. Your cat jumps onto the counter top, you shoo them off; they jump down and then you reward them for this with a tasty treat. The cat has actually learnt a chain: jump on, jump off and then get a snack. Similarly, if a cat is on your work top looking for attention and you push them off then you have rewarded them with what they wanted: attention. It’s a better idea to ignore them until they realise it’s boring and hop off themselves once they see there’s no food to be had.
Training Your Cat To Exhibit An Alternative Behavior
So once you’re managing the bad behavior, you can then start to direct the focus of attention away from what you don’t want them to do, to what you do want them to do. So, your counter surfing feline needs to learn that there is no food on the work top, but at the same time he needs to know that there is an alternative spot where there’ll be a tasty treat for them. Think of it in terms of having two different places to visit. The counter top is place A, and the alternative place you want to switch their focus of attention to, which is place B. If you were to discover that visiting place B entails being rewarded with a treat and lots of praise and attention, but nothing happens at place B then which would you prefer? Once they learn through positive reinforcement that the best place to go is B, and nothing happens at spot A, then you won’t have to worry about teaching them not to venture to the wrong location.
As with people, you’ll have more success through teaching your cat through positive reinforcement. If they’re scratching your nice sofa, then put a scratching post nearby and direct their attention to that. Each time they do as you want them to do reward them, whether that’s with praise or giving them a tasty snack. Divert their attention away through positive means to get them to go to a different place. Never punish your cat by slapping them or shouting at them: they aren’t able to make the connection between their unwanted actions and the punishment. All your pet will know is that you’re making them anxious, scared and confused, and they’ll start to associate you with negative experiences and shy away from you. Worse, they could become aggressive towards you. You don’t want to hurt the trust your cat has in you. Punishing an animal in this way will make the situation even worse, and you’ll create a downward spiral of negativity when you need to preserve a good bond.
Imagine if someone yelled at you each time you scratched at something, but then they never showed you where you could have a good old scratch. You’d soon get extremely frustrated and upset, and it’s no different for our furry friends. Show them what you want them to do, rather than just telling them off for behavior that displeases you.
Many animals exhibit unwanted actions because they’re bored and need to channel their excess energy into an activity. Sometimes it’s just a case of spending a little more time and giving them a little more attention. Both you and your cat will be rewarded with a great connection.