Are You (Accidentally) Encouraging Your Cat’s Bad Behavior?

| Published on March 26, 2016

Even the most angelically perfect cats can sometimes do things that drive us crazy, whether it’s scratching the side of the couch, jumping onto the kitchen counter while we’re preparing dinner, or yowling two hours before we have to wake up for work.

When we feel a desperate need to get a behavior to stop, we may resort to tactics like picking the cat up from the counter, using a spray bottle to reprimand, or doling out the cat’s breakfast at 5am. Though done with good intentions, many of these tactics actually encourage bad behaviors rather than discourage them.


According to Carly Heiber, a Cat Behaviorist and Consultant, scare tactics like using a spray bottle can backfire.

“Cats aren’t going to associate whatever you do with what they have done,” she says, “so basically you’re becoming a big scary monster. It can cause aggression or fear in cats and it isn’t going to solve the issue you’re having with the cat.”


So what should you do instead?

“When it comes to jumping on the counter it’s more effective to make the counter itself a scary place rather than picking the cat up. Because then the cat is going to think getting on the counter equals attention from you.”

Instead of giving a cat attention for a bad behavior, Heiber suggests laying a few cookie trays covered with pennies on the counter. When your cat jumps on them it’ll be loud and scary, which will convince her to avoid the counter next time.

Jennifer C. : Flickr

“Another thing people do,” Heiber explains, “is they expect cats to understand when they aren’t allowed to do something. If you don’t want your cat to come into your bedroom at certain times, they’re not going to understand that. They either need to be allowed in the room or not allowed in the room. They aren’t going to understand ‘between 6pm and 5am you’re not allowed in the bedroom but any other time is okay.’ You have to choose sides and decide whether you want the cat in a certain space or not. If you expect them to stay off the counter when you’re prepping food but you aren’t diligent about keep them off it at other times, they won’t understand.”

wapiko : Flickr

Heiber also notes that some behaviors, like scratching, are instinctual and healthy for a cat.

When you’re trying to curb an instinctual behavior like scratching, it’s crucial to offer a better option. Place a scratching post beside the place your cat is inappropriately scratching and make it the most desirable option. You can do that by wrapping tinfoil or double sided tape (or anything that’ll feel unpleasant on her claws and paws) around the old scratching location and sprinkling the new post with a bit of catnip.

Any attention, even negative attention, can encourage a cat. Choose techniques that separate you from the discouragement and let your cat decide what’s undesirable instead of being the enforcer.

Learn more about Carly Heiber and her Cat Behavior work at


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