We’ve heard it a million times: kittens and cats can’t be trained. In fact, so strong is this idea that some cat owners will, unfortunately, get rid of or give away a misbehaving cat rather than attempt to change its ways.
But kittens and cats can be trained! You can keep them from going outside the litter box, scratching the furniture, and even train them to fetch and sit. All you need is a bit of understanding about how a kitten thinks.
Kittens Are Not Dogs
Dogs have been bred over the centuries to work with people. Dogs are also social animals, creatures with a pack mentality, even if that pack is a bunch of trouser-wearing, bipedal humans. For these reasons, dogs want to please their owners and are fairly easy to train.
Cats, on the other hand, have rarely been bred to work with people and are generally solitary animals. They have no innate need to satisfy their owner’s wishes, which avowed “cat people” tend to regard as a good quality.
Nonetheless, kittens do respond to training when it is based on a system of rewards. If a kitten gets a tasty treat every time they do something you want them to, they’re going to learn to repeat that behavior. It may take some patience on your part, but over the course of several practice sessions, your kitten will respond.
Always Reward, Never Punish
The first key to training your kitten is to find a food or treat that they really love. Finding this treat may take some trial and error, but doing so is essential. Your kitten might not care that you are pleased with them for acting in a certain way, but a delicious treat—whether something from your refrigerator or from the pet store—will be a real motivator.
The second key is patience and consistency. If you want to teach your kitten to sit at your command, or to stop going to the bathroom in your closet, you will have to reward them each and every time they exhibits the required behavior. Just soon as they uses the litter box, for example, you should be right there to reward them. You might also have to spend some time luring your kitten to the cat box with their favorite treat.
Punishment should never be part of the equation. In most cases, cats will not understand why they are being punished and will instead only be confused, and will become fearful of you. Shoving your kitten’s nose in their waste will not teach them to use the litter box but only to be afraid of you. Forcing the kitten into the litter box will simply teach them to associate using it with fear.
The use of punishment can set your training efforts back by weeks, even months. Also, the stress this causes can lead to health problems in your kitten, including inflammation of the bladder.
Although punishment is not an option when training your kitten, you can make certain behaviors unpleasant for your pet. Some kittens may like to use your potted plants for a litter box, but covering the soil with tinfoil can discourage this practice.
Similarly, many pet owners teach their kittens not to scratch the furniture by applying citrus oil to the fabric. The oil, which can be purchased from many pet stores in a spray form, tastes bad on your kitten’s claws and feet.
You can also use a training clicker in addition to treats. As soon as you notice your kitten displaying good behavior, you push the clicker and then give your kitten their treat. The clicker gets the cat’s attention immediately, reinforcing the association between good behavior and reward. You can also use a ballpoint pen to produce the clicking sound.
By using these techniques, your kitten will quickly learn what you want, allowing them to be a welcome and celebrated part of your family.
More on Raising Your Kitten
5 Ways to Take the Eww Out of Litter Boxes
Treating Cystitis in Cats
Warning Sign Your Cat May Be Sick
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.