It still surprises so many people — even cat lovers themselves — that cats are trainable and behavior problems can often be solved. Where we fail in tackling behavior problems is we assume the cat’s motivation is spite, anger or stupidity. I promise you, your cat isn’t off in a corner plotting to do something just to watch you blow your top. What humans label as a cat “misbehaving” is actually kitty trying to find a solution to a problem.
A Cat’s Misbehavior or Misunderstood Behavior?
Every behavior a cat displays serves a function or it wouldn’t be repeated. Animals aren’t stupid. The key to successful behavior modification is to figure out what triggers the repeated behavior and what the cat gets from displaying that particular behavior so you can change the conditions. To change the outcome you have to change the set-up. The first step in that direction is to stop labeling the cat a particular way. Saying that your cat is aggressive, mean or spiteful doesn’t help you solve the problem. A cat shouldn’t be identified and labeled by a behavior. A cat displays a particular behavior under certain circumstances.
Effective training gives the cat an alternative behavior of the same or increased value than the unwanted behavior. The right kind of training sets the cat up to succeed because it provides the things he wants and needs and allows him to make the choice. The animal who doesn’t have any choices is the animal who starts reacting out of fear.
Think Like a Cat
Think like a cat and you’ll realize the unwanted behaviors your cat displays are not abnormal. You may not like the displayed behavior but your cat isn’t acting crazy or spiteful. He’s trying to solve a problem according to what his instincts tell him. If he’s scratching the furniture he isn’t intentionally shredding your favorite chair. He has a natural need to scratch and will seek out the most effective object for that function. If the scratching post doesn’t meet his needs (it might be too wobbly, too short, or covered in the wrong kind of texture) then his intelligent brain will direct him to an object that will work more effectively. Scratching is important to the cat. Provide him with a scratching post that meets his needs better than your sofa or chairs and he’ll naturally prefer that. It really does make a difference when you take the time to look at your cat’s environment from his point of view.
Four Important Steps for Correcting Your Cat’s Unwanted Behavior
Many cats are relinquished to shelters, banished to live outdoors, abandoned or even euthanized for behavior problems that are correctable. We get caught up in wrong assumptions regarding a cat’s motivation. Many times cat guardians are given inaccurate information from people who aren’t qualified to give advice. Much of it comes down to common sense. Look at what your cat is doing and the circumstances surrounding the behavior.
- What behavior is the cat displaying?
- What are the circumstances?
- What is the cat getting out of the particular behavior?
- How can you change the outcome or provide a better alternative?
When you start looking at the conditions surrounding a behavior it sets you up to then be able to identify possible triggers for that behavior. When you identify possible predictors/triggers, you can change the conditions. If the cat bites you every time you pick him up, for example, instead of labeling the cat as mean and punishing him for biting, you can now look at the technique you’ve been using. How has your technique/approach triggered a negative response? To create a better outcome, you need to create a better set-up so the cat learns to feel more comfortable.
Why Punishment Doesn’t Work With Your Cat
Many people reprimand the cat for “misbehavior.” Instead of focusing on what the cat needs and how to help him succeed, these cat guardians, out of frustration, choose punishment. Imagine the stress the cat endures when he’s punished for a behavior that’s actually normal and needed in his daily life. Punishment is all about releasing our own frustration and does nothing to teach the cat anything other than to be afraid of us.