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Bad Kitty!

Updated: Mar 4, 2023

Is your kitty a bad kitty? Does he scratch the furniture? Poop on the floor? Sleep on your face? Lucky you! You are a servant to royalty - accept it or live cat-less - a fate worse than death.

You don’t train a cat to behave. Your cat will teach you how to behave - that is, if you are interested in having a relationship with it. There is an old saying - “we teach people how to treat us.” It’s the same with cats.

If you’re watching and listening, your cat will teach you how to respond to unwanted behaviours. For example: say your cat repeatedly jumps on kitchen counters. If you yell at it or strike it, see how it responds - by running away from you. If this happens a few times, you’ll notice that while your cat may not jump on the counter any more, neither will it respond to you or approach you. Now try simply removing the cat from the counter as soon as it jumps up and saying, “no.” It may take a few more tries, but your cat will eventually stop jumping on the counter, and will still trust you and interact with you.

Cats are extremely careful beings. Danger is an ever-present reality for a cat, who has developed over time to respond to potential threats by instinct. Punishing a cat simply tells the cat that you are a danger to them, and if they regard you as such, you will have a captive instead of a pet or friend. Consistent, firm direction will tell a cat what behaviours will bring a reward and which will yield disappointment. They will adjust their behaviour to adapt to your wishes.

I use sounds as well as touch to communicate with a cat. For example, I whistle when I want them to come, and they always do, because experience has told them that they will be rewarded. When they learn the word “no,” they will understand when they hear it that there is no reward attached to the behaviour in question.

Teaching cats not to scratch furniture is a tough one, but it works just the same as with the counter. Scratching and stretching is a biological imperative that your cat absolutely must have, so the first thing to do is get a scratching post. When the cat scratches the furniture, pick him up and take him to the post. You have to be vigilant in interrupting the behaviour as soon and as often as possible - gently - but they will get the idea in time.

Now, if you yell at the cat for scratching, all your cat is going to understand is the you don’t like him doing what comes naturally, and will thus regard you as a problem instead of a friend. Your cat needs to scratch, so it will just find times and places to do it when they are unobserved. Meanwhile, your cat will regard you with distrust and suspicion.

Building relationships with cats takes much longer than with dogs, as a dog only wants to please you. A cat wants you to prove yourself. Are you worthy of their royal company? Time will tell. You will know by how your cat responds to you whether or not you’ve been successful in communicating your own expectations. If you want a cat that wants nothing to do with you, go ahead and try to tell it what to do. If you want a trusting companion, show your cat what you want - don’t try to tell him. As a committed crazy cat lady, (one who also appreciates and enjoys dogs) I can tell you that there is a depth of trust in my relationship with cats that isn’t present with canine relations. That trust is hard-won but is extremely rewarding.

My cats have learned through trust that they can follow me everywhere. My neighbours are amazed to see us going out for our nightly walk around the neighbourhood - everybody in a line, trotting along behind me. When they get out of line, I simply whistle and they come back. They know that whistle and associate it with good things. They follow me because they trust me. And they don’t scratch the furniture. Even if they did - well, that's the price you pay for living with royalty.

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