Train Your Shelter Cat to Live in Harmony with You

Play 'cat and mouse' with your cat every day to keep her physically, emotionally and mentally fit

We hope that you’ve taken advantage of the nationwide “June is Adopt A Shelter Cat Month.” Many shelters created great opportunities to adopt their cats and kittens at reduced prices.

Although dogs and cats have been human companions for thousands of years, there are strong differences between the species. Understanding cat behavior can help us train our feline friends to live in harmony with us.

Cats are solitary hunters unlike dogs who evolved from pack hunting wild dogs where hierarchy and ‘team work’ is paramount. Submission isn’t a natural part of a cat’s behavior, so the only way they learn is through positive reinforcement.

The first step in training your cat to do what you want her to do and not do is to find out what motivates her.

A cat’s primary sense is smell. Their sense of smell is 40 times stronger than that of humans. Often great smelling treats are a strong motivator for cats as their sense of taste is weak compared to that of humans with only 473 taste buds versus our 9,000 taste buds.

Cats live in the moment. Punishment after the act doesn’t work for cats because they don’t think about what they did a minute ago. So if your kitty just jumped up on the table during dinner and jumped right down again, it’s too late to chastise her when she’s on the floor. Even if you catch your cat “in the act” more than likely any negative response on your part will only teach her to not do the behavior when you’re within shouting distance.

If you want your cat to stay off counters, you have to make the experience uncomfortable or at least without reward. That means keeping food and toys off the places you want to keep as cat free zones. Battery operated motion detectors that make an unpleasant or ultrasonic (inaudible to dogs and people) noise can make the counter a bad place for the cat to be.

Other things most cats don’t like are citrus and cologne smells, so you can leave some towels sprayed with citrus or cologne where you don’t want your cat to be, and she’ll learn that the counter isn’t such a great hunting ground after all. Try dusting the wood furniture with citrus scented dusting spray. Double stick tape creates an unpleasant surface for sensitive cat paws. Attach the tape to cardboard and place it on the horizontal surfaces that you want your cat to avoid. After she has had a few ‘negative’ experiences on her own, she’ll avoid those places—unless you make it worth her while to try again by leaving food out.

Cats are wilder than dogs. Dogs have a larger frontal brain lobe than cats. Scientists suspect that this evolutionary development was caused in part by dogs’ longer history with human habitation and cooperation. So remember that your sweet kitty is really a solitary predator with great hunting skills and has needs that go along with those skills. Give your cat things to chase, from balls to laser pointers, so he gets the short, intense bouts of exercise that he would get if he was hunting his dinner.

Are you training your cat, or is your cat training you? If your cat is vocal and you respond to his ‘words’ you’re encouraging your cat to meow. If that is your intention and you want your cat to nag you, then by all means, keep up the good work. If the cat wakes your baby or day sleeping spouse with his opinions, the best way to discourage his conversation is to simply ignore it. Remember, punishment doesn’t work with a solitary hunter—they just attack or become afraid and run away. If you’ve already trained him to be loud, don’t be surprised if the retraining takes longer than the training. Think about your cat’s behavior and how you react to it. If your cat is skittish and afraid of you, it’s important to figure out what you need to do make him trust you. If your cat is demanding and you satisfy those demands, you’ve taught him that you’re his servant—and if that works for you, good. But if you’re frustrated by his behavior, you’ll need to change your own for the good of your relationship.

How have you solved some of your cat’s behavior problems? Please comment below.