Cats usually only do things that are in their own best interest. While this self-serving attitude often earns them a reputation for being “untrainable,” understanding how cats work is precisely how you’ll train them. For instance, if you want your cat to stop scratching the side of the couch, you’ll need to provide an alternative that’ll be irresistible to your cat. She’ll stop scratching the couch as long as her need to scratch is met with a better option, like the perfect scratching post. The key is to lay the groundwork that’ll allow your cat to decide for herself that her bad behavior isn’t benefiting her as much as a good one.
Of course, we often sabotage ourselves when attempting to train our cats. Here are 5 ways you may accidentally be encouraging your cat’s bad behavior.
#1 – Not ruling out a medical problem
Many behavioral problems (litter box avoidance, aggression, etc.) can stem from underlying medical issues. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away if you can’t immediately identify a solvable explanation for your cat’s bad behavior.
#2 – Picking up your cat
Removing your cat from places you don’t want her to be is necessary, but how you do it makes all the difference. Picking your cat up from the counter won’t help if you continue to hold your cat, pet or scratch her, or kiss her head before putting her down. Removing her in that way won’t teach her to stay off the counter. In fact, it will make the problem worse by teaching her that being on the counter will get positive attention. Instead, pick her up off the counter and immediately relocate her to the floor in a way that’s neutral and without affection.
#3 – Giving in
Giving in is the quickest way to reinforce your cat’s bad habits. Cats learn by testing the waters and assessing the results. If your cat discovers she has benefited from the behavior, you can bet she’ll try again. Be careful not to give positive attention to your cat when she’s behaving in ways you don’t want to encourage.
#4 – Getting out of bed
If you’ve ever had a cat meow incessantly all night, it may feel as if you have no other option than to get out of bed and attend to your cat’s needs. Unfortunately, that’s the worst thing you can do. Getting out of bed to feed or play with a needy cat will teach her that screaming at night is an acceptable way to get what she wants, and you’ll set yourself up for years of sleep deprivation.
#5 – Inconsistency
Inconsistency is, ironically, one of the most consistent mistakes people make when trying to stop bad behavior. In order for a cat to learn not to do something, she’ll have to experience an undesirable result every time. If the results are inconsistent, she’ll keep trying since she’ll know there’s a 50/50 chance she’ll get the results she wants. A classic example of this is when you don’t want your cat on the kitchen counter but only bother to remove her from it when you’re cooking. If you don’t remove her every time, whether you’re cooking or not, she’ll keep jumping up.
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