Alternative Disciplinary or Training Methods for Cats

CatChannel and CAT FANCY cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, shares ways to modify cat behavior without squirt bottles or spraying water.

By Cat Behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, CCBC | Posted: December 2, 2011, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: After my cat overcomes the initial shock of being squirted with water, he seems to enjoy it when I squirt him. At least he doesn’t shy away from it like every other cat I've ever met. I am wondering if you know of any alternative disciplinary/training methodologies for cats?

A: I do not recommend using squirt bottles for disciplining or training cats. Typically cats who have been “squirted” for “bad” behaviors, will engage in the behavior when no one is looking. Cats associate the squirt bottle with the person who is using them. In addition, because cats make that association, often they become fearful of the person who squirts them.

Squirt bottles aren’t all bad, though. They can save lives when used correctly. Squirting a cat when he jumps up on the stove can keep him from being injured. It won’t train the cat to not jump up on the stove, but it will keep him from being burned in the moment when he’s squirted.

Cats aren’t being bad cats when then do unwanted behaviors. They are responding from instinct to a situation, a medical problem or something in the environment that is stressing them. Punishing a cat for these instinctual behaviors can result in increasing the cat’s anxiety and stress. This can escalate the behavior or cause new ones. Often cats become afraid of their people when punished since they associate the punishment with the punisher.

Although they may take a little longer to implement, there are better methods, based on positive reinforcement for training cats. These training techniques are fun for both cats and their people and they can permanently change behaviors. Additionally, using positive reinforcement to train a cat usually strengthens the relationship between the cat and his person.

The first step in changing a behavior is to determine the cause. Depending on the behavior challenge, many triggers exist, including disease, that cause cats to engage in unwanted behaviors. Painful medical conditions and injuries can cause behavior changes, so veterinarians always examine cats before approaching the problem as behavioral.

Once you know a medical condition doesn’t cause it, search for other reasons for the behavior. Most unwanted cat behaviors have identifiable triggers. For instance, cat litterbox issues often result from poor litterbox maintenance, location of the litterboxes or not enough litterboxes.

After identifying the triggers, change them. For example, if there aren’t enough litterboxes or they are dirty, add boxes and clean the litterboxes every day.  Along with addressing the factors in the environment, use reward-based training methods for cats to modify or stop the unwanted behavior.

Because the triggers vary depending on the cat, his circumstances and the behavior, tailor the solutions to effectively change problems that fit each individual situation. Sometimes, triggers are hard to identify and the reasons for the behavior are puzzling. A veterinarian behaviorist or a certified cat behavior consultant  can help identify the triggers and design a plan that will help solve the problem.  
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I0    OP, MD

12/27/2011 1:04:59 AM

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0    O-, VA

12/20/2011 12:49:14 AM

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O-    O-, MH

12/18/2011 1:05:48 AM

I0O

Lori    Oceanside, CA

12/15/2011 4:51:02 PM

I hate using the squirt bottle. But what to do when one cat bullies the other? You have to protect the one being bullied so he isn't hurt.

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