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How to Train Your Cat (Yes, it is Possible)

Cats have reputations that precede them. Even cats who are incredibly affectionate, and are what some owners might call “dog-like,” can be incredibly headstrong. Cats simply don’t enjoy doing something that isn’t on their agenda.

Because of their strong characters, there is often a misconception that cats are less intelligent or somehow inferior to dogs. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Cats are absolutely capable of behavioral training. You just have to do it in a way that reaps the best results. So, let’s discuss different training strategies to help—and may the force be with you!cat face divider 2

Litter Training

You can begin training kittens to use the litter box at only 3 weeks old. When it’s time to go to their forever homes at 8 weeks, most kittens will have the concept down. It’s instinctual for cats to cover their poop and pee.

But if you’re having a few issues with a learning kitten, try these steps:
  • Keep the kitten in a small room or kennel initially with only their food dishes and litter box.
  • Show the kitten the litterbox to let them sniff around.
  • Reintroduce the box after every meal and nap.
  • Every time the kitten eliminates in the litter box, leave the waste there until they use it again. The scent helps it to remember where they’re supposed to go to do their business.
  • If you think your kitten has the concept down, you can expand their roaming space.
  • Don’t punish the kitten for any accidents. Reintroduce them to the litter box each time.

This process usually only takes a few weeks to complete. After the first use, some kittens will catch on since they have a built-in desire to cover their waste.

See also: How to Litter Train an Older Cat: 8 Easy Steps

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Toilet Training

Maybe you’ve seen videos of cats using the toilet—it seems far fetched, though, right? You might be surprised to know that not only is this possible, it’s also not as hard to teach as you might think. The core of the training is repetition. That means the more consistent you are during training, the better it will work in the long run.

  • Move your cat’s litter box into the bathroom as close to the toilet as possible.
  • Over a few days, lift the litter box off the ground a little more.
  • The closer the box moves to the toilet, the less litter you need.
  • Buy or make a few things to get the ball rolling. Get a training box to fit over the toilet seat. Also, you want to make sure you have a flushable litter for the next phases, along with wax paper or an aluminum bottom.
  • Cut a hole in the wax or aluminum bottom.
  • Increase the size of the hole every day.
  • Flush the toilet after each use.

Soon, you can remove the tray altogether.

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Marking Training

Cats can begin marking their territory at sexual maturity, which is around 6 months. When they start, they might mark doorways, shoes, and other objects as a way to communicate that this is their turf—and warn other cats to stay away. They also use this action to attract potential mates.

Both males and females are capable of spraying. If a female is in heat, she might spray to attract a mate (especially if she can smell one close by). Males usually spray in a territorial fashion.

Ways to train them out of this behavior include:
  • Add another litter box—your cat might not be too happy about sharing a litter box. Have a couple in separate areas of your home to prevent territorial tendencies.
  • Odor-neutralizing products—there are tons of specially formulated cat products to reduce or end marking or peeing out of the litter box.
  • Essential oils—Some owners swear by essential oils, claiming lavender, lemon, or peppermint oil deter cats from marking in an area.
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Unwanted Behavior Training

Let’s face it — there are lots of things our cats do that we might disapprove of—and that’s okay! There are ways to curb the behavior, it just might take patience on your part.

Since cats are so drastically different from dogs in the way they respond, you have to remember that they are entirely different species that require specific methods over others.

Other undesirable behaviors could be:
  • Jumping on counters or tables. Your cat traipses around in their litter box, so it’s only natural to want them off of places you prepare food.

Solution: Take time to redirect your cat to another area using positive reinforcement. You could even get them a high-platform cat bed or various perches around the house.

  • Destroying personal belongings. Cats who have a high energy level might be more prone to destroying belongings. This usually results in not having enough stimulation to keep their brains busy.

Solution: Make sure your cat has a wide variety of toys that offer interesting textures and provide entertainment. Play with your cat to ensure they are getting at least 15 minutes of strenuous exercise per day.

  • Tearing or scratching furniture. Claw sharpening is a natural behavior, so instead of discouraging it, you just have to teach them to channel it correctly.

Solution: Give your cat several cat scratch posts that have different textures. It’s a way to keep your cat busy and interested. You can also try out plastic nail caps and regular nail clippings to keep destruction levels low.

  • Eating houseplants. Some houseplants are highly toxic to cats, so it’s best not to let this happen in the first place. It can be hard to keep them away, especially if your cat is determined.

Solution: Keep your houseplants in hanging baskets, separate rooms, or out of reach from your cat. Don’t keep any toxic plants, just in case your cat does come in contact with one.

  • Over-aggression with other pets. Some felines just don’t like being bothered. But because of that, some might develop responses that are a bit overkill. It may stem from an underlying anxiety issue or another health problem.

Solution: For aggression, get your cat to the vet to rule out any serious health concerns. Once your cat has a clean bill of health, try other solutions like calming bites, diffusers, or sprays. You could also try behavior modification techniques recommended by your vet.

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Should You Use a Spray Bottle?

A lot of cat owners picked up the concept of using a spray bottle to deter bad behavior. A cat hops on the counter and—squirt! Sure, cats absolutely hate it and probably will learn not to do the bad behavior, but is it the right teaching method?

There are some contradictory reports on this. Behaviorists explain that it’s unlikely cats will associate the spray bottle with their bad behavior—making it nearly ineffective. So, what does it teach instead?

They will start to associate the spray bottle with you. If they don’t know why you’re spraying them, it might lead to them fearing you instead of stopping the unwanted action.

woman giving cat a treat
Image Credit: Pixabay

Importance of Positive Reinforcement Training

In case you haven’t already picked up on it, cats don’t really handle ‘harsh’ discipline well. It might cause your cat to develop even worse behaviors as a result. So, you never want to handle your furry friend in a way that could lead to a bigger problem.

Often, cats don’t associate their bad behavior with punishment. Hitting, yelling, and other aggressive ways of handling your cat are more likely to make them feel differently about you and nothing more.

Positive reinforcement training allows you to reward good behavior by using their favorite thing—a treat. Each time your cat repeats a positive action, you should reward them with a delicious morsel. They are highly food motivated, so they will learn to associate good behavior with tasty rewards.3 cat divider

Final Thoughts

Training your cat is a fabulous idea, as it creates a well-balanced companionship where each of you benefits. Even though cats aren’t as dependent on your support and approval, they are still quite capable of learning concepts.

Remember that patience is the most important attribute you can offer. Your cat relies on you for understanding and overall care. Trust the process and keep to the training routine until it sticks.

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Featured image credit: Soloveva Kseniia, Shutterstock