You can get better at the art of solving cat behavior dilemmas with the tips outlined here. I certainly did.
It’s something that cats have been trying to tell us all along: Attempting to “train” or control behavior by domination or punishment is a bad idea.
Even the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has basically debunked the old dominance theory and now says punishment only exacerbates behavior problems.
Your problem-solving artist tools
If you are frustrated with a cat behavior issue, run through this list of tips that work for me (with special thanks to good advice I’ve picked up from listening to cat behavior artists like Jackson Galaxy and Feline Minds):
- Remember the important thing in your relationship with your cat is trust. If your cat sees you as a punisher, his trust in you erodes quickly, which means any behavior you might think you’ve “corrected” can surface as another issue in a different costume.
- Keep in mind that your cat is in a safe habitat indoors, but it’s not their natural habitat, so the more you can provide “cat trees” and cat scratchers and high places to safely jump, the less behavior troubles you’re likely to see. Many people are amazed at what a difference a well-placed cat tree makes with their indoor cat.
- Take advantage of the fact that cats stop doing something if they find it inherently unpleasant–they just develop a new habit, that’s why I love Sticky Paws. (Whatever you do though, do not use pain or anything that implies punishment! That’s not only cruel, it also backfires.)
- Know that anything to do with a litter box may have a serious medical cause, so get to the vet asap.
- Have some healthy treats on hand as reward for good behavior. (Ideal for conditioning cats to associate car rides, cat carriers, a new scratching post, and even cat-walker leashes with something positive.)
- Remember that nothing they do is to “punish”or defy you personally. Look for the real reason to most likely be one of these things:
- they are distressed by a sense of a lack of safety; they need a safe, quiet perch or room
- there is an underlying medical problem
- there’s been a change that is hard for them to adjust to (new dog? new cat? new person? new home?)
- they are doing something cats instinctively do–like scratch or jump on high surfaces
Examples of what works
Here are some examples of applying those tools:
- Cat going outside the litter box? Super smart behaviorists share their tips
- How to keep cats from scratching furniture? Smart behaviorists have answers
- Keeping cats off counters–a strategy that works
When it comes to indoor cats nibbling plants, I have not found anything nontoxic that repels our cats from their plant obsession, so I recommend going the other direction—work around it, get cat-safe plants and flowers, and learn the trick that keeps vases from falling over.
I am not a cat behaviorist—I am a cat behaviorist “fan girl,” fascinated by cat psychology and the psychology of our relationships with them, but I hope this blog can help you leverage the latest cat wisdom through my interviews with cat behaviorists.
We all benefit from learning cat behavior basics and simple tricks, but sometimes the underlying causes are more hidden than we can tease out alone, or we need an expert’s creative ideas for addressing them.
At those times, a consult with a good cat behaviorist is going to make your life a lot easier.
A couple of great cat behaviorists (who can consult by phone)
- Jackson Galaxy (cat guru of My Cat from Hell fame)
- Feline Minds Consulting (local dynamic duo I’ve been interviewing on the blog)
- Sticky Paws is cheap and works very well for us–remember: you only need to keep in place for a few weeks, then you can remove it
- Ultimate Scratching Post is the favorite of behaviorists Feline Minds
- This Armarkat cat tree is well-made, the company claims an environmental practice certification, and little Phil and Joel love it