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The Squirt Bottle Controversy

It looks innocent enough. It’s a little plastic squirt bottle sitting on the kitchen counter. In that plastic bottle is plain tap water. That little plastic bottle, as innocent as it looks, has become the tool that is destroying the bond you share with your cat. The reason? You’re using the squirt bottle to deter your cat from engaging in any number of behaviors you deem inappropriate or unwanted.

It’s an Ineffective Tool for Training Your Cat

The squirt bottle deterrent, in many cat households, has become the popular method for keeping cats off counters and tables. It is also the way many people attempt to stop their cats from scratching the furniture. The squirt bottle is used to stop a cat who is getting too aggressive, either with another companion animal or with a human family member. The squirt bottle has become the tool many cat guardians reach for immediately when the cat isn’t acting the way we want him to act.

quote from dr. haug



You’d think that based on the popularity of the squirt bottle technique, it must be an extremely effective and successful method of training cats. The truth is though, it’s not effective at training a cat to cease engaging in unwanted behaviors. The squirt bottle technique only accomplishes three things:

  1. It creates frustration in the cat
  2. It causes the cat to become afraid of you
  3. The cat learns to wait until you aren’t around before engaging in the behavior

Punishment Doesn’t Work When Training Animals

When you punish a cat for exhibiting a behavior you don’t like, it doesn’t stop the behavior. First, it’s important to understand that regardless of how unwanted the behavior is, it serves a purpose for the cat. Your cat isn’t scratching on the sofa or jumping on the counter just to make you mad. Animals engage in behaviors that serve a function (i.e. a pay-off). Additionally, many of the behaviors cat parents view as unwanted, such as furniture scratching, are normal, natural behaviors. When you squirt the cat with water for scratching the furniture you may momentarily stop the behavior but the cat has a normal and natural need to scratch. If he gets punished every time he attempts to engage in a normal behavior, he will probably become afraid of you and he’ll also continue the behavior in secret. That’s a very stressful combination.