Cat education: are punishments and ranting useless?

Cat education is a lot more difficult than dog education, but it's not impossible. Cats learn best behavior through reward. But what to do if the house tiger behaves wrongly? Are punishments a sensible means of education? This Maine Coon cat doesn't understand why her owner scolds her - Shutterstock / Rommel Canlas

In contrast to many dog ​​breeds (e.g. Labrador and other retrievers), cats do not have a "will to please" towards their humans. This means that they usually only do what they want to do and what is of use to them. Whether or not their behavior appeals to their favorite people is of secondary interest to them. For this reason, punishment and ranting are not promising methods in cat education.

Cats don't understand why you scold

If your cat grinds its claws on the sofa or carpet, jumps on the dining table or the kitchenette, it won't do it to annoy you. It does so because it benefits it, such as your attention or - if it doesn't have a scratching post or enough scratching options - to meet its natural needs and instincts and it doesn't have any better alternatives to your furniture. If you then scold her, yell at her, or splash water on her, punish her for something she cannot understand as misconduct.

All that matters to your cat is that your favorite person suddenly becomes loud, unpredictable and scary, although (from her point of view) she hasn't done anything bad. At best, she gets used to jumping only on forbidden places and working on forbidden furniture with her claws when you are not there. At worst, she becomes afraid of you and subsequently develops behavioral disorders.

Indirect penalties in cat education?

Occasionally, on the subject of cat education, one reads that indirect punishments can be used for particularly resentive tigers. While direct punishments are visible and noticeable to you, the indirect variant is intended to show the cats unpleasant consequences of undesirable behavior without the animals communicating this to you. Instead of scolding your cat when it jumps on the table, hide and splash water on your chest (not on your face!) Or make a loud noise.

In theory, your velvet paw thinks that the loud noise or water splash came from sitting on the table. In practice, however, it is not easy to consistently implement this method of cat education, since you must always trigger the same unpleasant stimulus as soon as your kitty does the forbidden. If you forget it or if you are not there in time, your cat will quickly notice that it has nothing to do with her behavior, whether she gets wet or not. Therefore, only really apply indirect penalties if you are sure that you can really control a certain undesirable behavior of your fur nose. For example, if you don't want your kitty to run out the front door.

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Understanding as the basis for good cat education

If you understand why your cat is behaving in a certain way that you don't like, you have made a big step forward in cat education. Possible reasons for "misconduct" include boredom, a lack of scratching options, a non-cat-friendly home furnishings or illness. Does your cat have everything it needs: scratching post, clean litter box, sleeping places, hiding places, climbing opportunities, suitable food and fresh water?

If so, you should take her to the vet as a precaution if she still shows unusual or disruptive behavior. She may be in pain or sick and have no other way to tell you. If she has everything she needs and is physically healthy, there may be stress or fear behind it. After visiting the vet, a cat psychologist may be able to help you.

Ignore cat in case of unwanted behavior

If your cat is in good health and its needs are met so far, "bad behavior" can also be learned behavior. Cats like to be reserved to their people, like to have freedom of choice and their own will, but attention is also something nice for them. If they find that a certain behavior triggers a reaction on your part, they try to get your attention if necessary. Then they play the alarm clock at night, jump on work surfaces and desks, throw things on the floor or meow in a tour.

In this case, it is counterproductive to scold her, because then she has reached her goal (attention). The best way to "punish" them is by ignoring them, for example by leaving the room without a word or by putting them back on the floor without a comment from the kitchenette. Be sure to be consistent here, too, then your cheeky kitty will gradually learn that she has nothing to do with bothering you and let it. Caution! If your cat has recently started to behave abnormally or has otherwise changed its appearance, you should go to the vet with her.