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Have you heard the expression: “As hard as herding cats”?
This sums up so much about what we love about our feline friends, such as knowing their own minds and refusing to run with the crowd. But doesn’t this imply cats are difficult to train?
Well, yes and no.
If you try to impose your will on a cat you’ll get nowhere fast. But if you work with your cat’s psyche you’ll have a purrfectly trained pet (…then again, perhaps they’ll train you!)
With that in mind, here are our top 10 training tips for kittens.
Kittens are one of the few species that learn by example. Very young kittens watch their mother and then copy her actions. This is why kittens are easy to wean and quick to learn hunting skills, because they observe their mum and give it a go themselves.
If you want to teach a kitten to use a scratch post, you need to take on the role of surrogate mother. You’ll have to lower you dignity, get on your hands and knees and scratch the post yourself to set an example and then let her think it was her idea all along.
Your kitten wants to be clean, so training her to use a litter box is a matter of showing her the facilities and making it inviting.
Provide a large tray with low sides. Make it easy for kitty to climb in, such as creating a staircase of books leading up to the tray. Ask the previous carer which litter they used and provide the same brand so that she recognizes it as a toilet. Place the tray in a quiet corner where she won’t be disturbed, but away from her food and water.
Keep the tray clean (no one likes a dirty toilet) but that said, if she’s slow to catch on, scoop up any accidents and pop them in the box as a scent marker to guide her to the right place.
Young animals, especially kittens, have short attention spans. Training little and often is best, and at the first sign her attention is wandering bring things to a close. However, try to end on a paws-itive note, such as getting her to perform a command she already knows.
Teach kitty to come to her name. This is invaluable if she slips out past you one dark night. However, to do this wait until she’s walking towards you then call out her name, and give her a huge fuss when she arrives. You can amplify the effect by reward based training.
Training a kitten is about motivation. If you have something your kitten really wants she’ll work to get it. All cats have at least one food they’ll go crazy for; it’s just a matter of identifying her ‘must-have’ treat.
To find her must-have treat, offer small amounts of different foods. You’ll know when you’ve found it because she’ll gobble it down and obsessively demand more. Our cats go crazy for freeze-dried treats and there’s a whole flavour range to choose from – kangaroo, lamb, beef liver, chicken, turkey, cod and salmon.
Of course those treats contain calories so cut down on her regular food so she doesn’t gain excess weight. You use the treat to motivate her. When she performs the behaviour you require, she gets a treat.
You can train a cat to sit, offer a paw, roll over, and jump off a counter top… pretty much anything you want. All you have to do is get the kitten to link the behaviour to getting her must-have treat, and then label the action with a cue word.
For example, to teach a kitten to sit hold her must-have treat (say it’s freeze-dried salmon) in front of her nose to get her attention. Then raise the treat in an arc over her head so that her bottom sinks to the ground as she follows it. As her furry butt hits to floor say “Sit” and give her the treat. Repeat regularly. Once she gets the hang of it, start saying “Sit” before you move the treat…and when she does…hey presto, you’ve trained your kitten to sit.
Cats vote with their paws and if you punish your cat she’ll walk away and avoid you in future. Say you want to train your kitten not to walk on the table (or kitchen counter), punishing her only teaches her that you’re an unpleasant person. OK, she avoids the table when you’re in the room, but once you leave she’ll be right back up there as she thinks you are the problem, not the table.
If you want a close, loving relationship with your kitten then show her only love.
You can however be cunning about your deterrents. If the kitten links jumping on the kitchen counter or table with an unpleasant experience that strikes out-of-the-blue, then she’ll avoid doing so again, period.
You can improvise booby traps such as balancing a baking tray with empty tin cans on it, on the edge of the table. When she jumps up she lands on the unstable tray, which tips and the cans fall over with a clatter. Alternatively, if you fancy a hi-tech solution try SSSCat compressed air spray. This is motion activated and spritzes kitty with air when she approaches the banned object.
Turn a Deaf Ear
Sometimes your best bet is to ignore an action altogether. If your kitten wants to play at night, and you get up and make a fuss of her, you are rewarding her and she’s going to think night-time is play-time. Unless you want to be permanently sleep deprived, its best to turn a deaf ear to her meows and pretend to be asleep. Once she learns that her efforts are fruitless the demanding behaviour will die out.
It’s easy to take good behaviour for granted and think it doesn’t need rewarding. But actually, if your goal is to have your cat resting quietly in her bed, when she does just that, heap praise on her furry head. She’ll link the attention to being quiet and make more effort to do that in future.
And finally, sometimes cat training is about stopping your kitten from doing things such as climbing the curtains or scratching furniture. These are natural behaviours and if you want to re-educate her, in addition to distracting her from the bad behaviour you must offer an alternative outlet. So make sure you provide plenty of scratch posts and cat towers so that she can climb and scratch to her furry paw’s content.
Did you find these training tips for kittens useful? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Great tips. I don’t have cats but will pass this on to my mom who has 11!
Cathy Armato says
These are fun tips – it’s a little like training a dog as well in some ways. I had a friend that taught her cat to give kisses on command – so impressive! She used tuna fish and only gave the cat tuna when she was training that behavior, which was usually in the morning before work. No kisses, No tuna! I thought that was so cool.
Sweet Purrfections says
Great recommendations. The hardest thing to do is ignore their meows.
Susan FriedlandSmith (@SaddlSeeksHorse) says
I love kittens. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to have a cat again as I married a man who claims to be allergic. I have to enjoy baby kitties vicariously through blogs like this and the magic of the InterWeb. 🙂
Tenacious Little Terrier says
Works across species! Positive reinforcement and lots and lots of patience.
The Daily Pip says
My cat Otis (who passed in 2012) was quite aggressive as a kitten. He would literally attack anything and everything. I started carrying around a toys in my pockets and when he would start to attack me I would throw one of his toys which would distract him and he would take off after it. It worked really well and he eventually learned to channel his energy into playing instead of lunging at everyone. He even learned to play fetch and catch toys in mid-air
Beth (@dailydogtag) says
What great information. I would love to meet a cat that performs tricks.
Cathy Keisha says
Yep, I have TW trained but good. We play in the middle of the night; I do wherever I want, etc. She’s of the mind that if she walks away and refuses to play or inneract with me if I bite her I’ll learn that it’s not acceptable behavior. HAH! Think again.
Amber Ketchum says
These are great! I’d love to read about adult cat training! Mine would be so uninterested lol
Lola The Rescued Cat says
Great tips for kittens. Mommy hasn’t had a kitten in many, many years and she misses having one.
Prospector Pups says
Such great tips! Im working on Harness training with my 12 month old kitten and boy is it tough haha. But..the reward system rocks. Definitely works!
As I read this I realize that training a cat is much like training a dog. Positive reinforcement, patience and of course rewards.
Three Chatty Cats says
Great tips and a good refresher for any cat owner! I bet a tray with tin cans would scare any cat aware!
Great tips! Cats do mimic others, particularly when they see a positive outcome. And yes, indeed, cats CAN be trained…much harder to train the human, LOL!
Bryn Nowell says
great points! I’ll be sure to share this post with folks that I know who have cats. As a person who’s allergic, I live vicariously through friends and fellow bloggers that have cats since I cannot.
Your example of getting down on the floor and using the scratching post reminds me of a more light-hearted example. For whatever reason, Bear won’t go near open boxes. He doesn’t seem bothered by it, but I’ve wondered if he’s missing some essential experience of cathood. I’ve tried all different kinds of boxes, all different sizes and in every single location around the house. Nope. So I had the brilliant idea of SHOWING him by sitting in a box myself. Since this was mainly out of frustration, I didn’t think it through and the box was a bit too snug for my behind. At least he got a show of me trying to get it off – no doubt he was amused and thinking, “This is WHY I don’t mess with boxes!”
Then there was the litter box debacle. He was homeless and after getting him checked out, I brought him inside. He’d never had a full food bowl and never seen a litter box. But I read that to litter box train a cat, you pick him up and set him in the litter box each time after he eats or drinks. Well, between being starving and soaking up all the love I had to offer, he’d go back and forth between the food and me every five minutes or so. And each time after he ate a bit, I set him in the litter box because that’s what I read to do. Until the time I set him in there and he just curled up because he thought that’s where he was supposed to be. I’ve never felt so horrible in my life. I held his paw and scratched around in there a bit and then stopped putting him in the box. To my surprise we never had a single accident. When he had to go, he went. In the box. End of story.
Poor, poor Bear. Having to deal with an exceptionally stupid human 😉
I want to add that the copycat thing knows no age: at 15, Binga learned how to walk on a harness and leash just by watching me do it!
The Swiss Cats says
Those are great tips. The most important for us is that cats responds well to rewards : encourage good behaviors instead of punish is very important. Purrs