I am a cat parent and trained my indoor rescue kitten to enjoy walking on a leash.
The Basics of Cat Discipline and Correction for Bad Behavior
You love your cat and your cat loves you. You've already figured out by now that felines are finicky and they certainly don't behave like or train like dogs. Cats like to do things on their terms. They sit, they observe, and they train their humans (rather than the other way around). But can cats really be trained? How do you discipline them? In this article, we'll go over:
- How to communicate with your cat
- How to prevent biting
- Do time outs work?
- Cats that poop or pee in the house
- Noise deterrents and physical barriers
- What cats need to be happy
Can Cats Be Trained Like Dogs?
The good news is that you can train your cat and you can discipline them the right way. You are not trying to punish them, but you are training them and helping them to learn how to replicate your likes and not perform your dislikes.
Unlike dogs, cats aren't eager to please, but you can get them to repeat desirable versus undesirable behaviors.
Do Cats Understand Words?
Cats will learn to recognize certain words if repeated regularly in identifiable scenarios. Just like your kitty will come to identify his or her name and come when you call them, they will start to understand words or word combinations like "good kitty," "din din" (dinner), "treat," and "no." But more importantly, cats will come to understand your tone of voice.
Verbal Queues: "No" and "Good Kitty"
Cats respond well to verbal queues if used regularly and in proper circumstances. For instance, you may want to consider using a verbal deterrent when your cat is doing an undesirable behavior like scratching on furniture. A naturally deterring sound might be a "chhh-chhh, no." This should be said sternly, but do not yell! As you approach your cat, too, consider using a wand or toy to redirect their attention away from the furniture.
A positive command like "good kitty" can be rewarding if paired with a treat. This may be the case if you notice your cat performing a desirable behavior. Cats are more responsive to tone and intention rather than the value of a word.
You could essentially use the word "apple" in the same way as you would the word "no" in a disciplinary tone, and your cat would get the message! It's not the value of the word so much as the intention!
Never Yell at Your Cat
Yelling at your cat is not effective. It confuses them and can heighten bad behaviors. It may even encourage them to engage in bad behaviors when you are not looking.
How to Stop Your Cat or Kitten From Biting
When it comes to biting, there's a big difference between an adult cat that bites and a kitten that hasn't learned his or her manners.
Kittens That Bite
If your cat or kitten is biting you, it's likely that they think you are a sibling or a play pal. Unfortunately, they may not realize that we don't wear protective fur like they do. If your kitten is biting you, it's likely because they aren't getting the clues.
The best thing that you can do when your kitten is biting is to withdraw! That means to simply get up and move away. Or, you may want to have a toy to redirect your kitten's attention. Their attention spans are short, so toss a toy in one direction or use a long cat wand to engage in play the safe way.
Adult Cats That Bite
For adult cats, you may want to first rule-out a health issue. Arthritic cats and cats with dental issues may simply be grumpy or painful and not want to be touched.
Long-haired cats, too, can overheat when being pet and may suddenly bite. If your adult cat is biting, it may be territory-related (your cat is stressed), or you may not be reading queues well. Cats will let you know when they are done being petted. Their tail usually starts to flick, their ears are pointed back, and they will look like they are ready to leave—so let your cat move on when they tell you they are done being affectionate.
How to Pet Your Cat the Right Way
Does Cat and Kitten Time Out Work?
Cats do understand what at timeout is. For instance, my kitten was bullying my adult cat. Even though the two have adequate space and territory, our kitten would chase and bully our older cat frequently. I found two techniques to be effective. When your cat is acting out, find a way to separate them from the environment that allows them to misbehave.
Bullying Behavior in Cats
For instance, our kitten was free-roaming the house and bullying our adult cat into one room. When I noticed the behavior starting and my kitten becoming more and more excitable, I shut my kitten into a large portion of the house (with a litterbox, water, food, and adequate entertainment) and let our adult cat free-roam the house. After 30 minutes or so, I released the kitten after she had experienced a time out. Here's the benefit:
- Our adult cat was able to free-roam the rest of the house and leave her scent.
- Our kitten was able to calm down her play-chase instincts.
- Our two cats had adequate time to separately calm down and regroup.
Timeouts are especially good for overly excitable cats. You want to make sure, though, that you are not stimulating your cat in play and then abandoning them. All cats need time to wind down from play, so it is not advised that you give them a timeout when they are anticipating interaction.
The Grazing Trick
I used this technique to get my older cat and kitten comfortable with one another. I take several highly-valued cat treats and invite both cats over. I toss the treats (4-5 pieces) in small piles out across the floor to create a grazing pattern—be sure to offer each cat a fair amount in a decent amount of space at a distance they feel comfortable. They learn to graze around each other without feeling challenged—it helps them bond.
Pooping and Peeing Outside of the Litterbox
How to Stop a Cat From Pooping or Peeing in the House
I had this problem with my 6-month-old kitten. It seemed like every time I would leave the house, and she would go and pee in my bed almost out of frustration, anger, and resentment. Cats poop and pee outside of their litterbox for numerous reasons:
- Health issues (UTI, GI disturbances)
- Anxiety (new animals in the house, new baby)
- Dirty litterbox (if you are not keeping it clean)
- Not enough litterboxes (offer one per cat + 1)
- Unfavored litter (changing litter unexpectedly)
- Territory (marking, competition)
In most cases, your cat is acting out because of some kind of environmental upset, but it is important that you rule out a health issue with your veterinarian. Often times, cats will mark because of competition for territory or displeasure with the litterbox setup.
Does Feliway Work?
You can neutralize territory by using a product like Feliway—these products disperse feline appeasing pheromones into the environment to calm your cat. There are several available, and they come as sprays and diffusers. There is the classic Feliway which helps to reduce problematic behaviors like urinating on furniture and scratching, but there is also the multi-cat household product which can help with bullying, as well as a travel spray.
Using Noise Deterrents and Physical Barriers
Noise deterrents can be effective, but they should be used cautiously as not to startle your cat and create an anxious environment. You should also use them cautiously so that your cat does not associate you with the "punishment." Otherwise, you risk damaging your relationship with your cat.
I would only recommend these deterrents when your cat is in danger. In all other circumstances, you want to remove the trigger.
- Noisemakers: Some people suggest using a soda can with pennies in it, which in my opinion is too loud, but you can use other things like a percussive device (egg shaker) or something attention-grabby. You want to shake it when you see your cat digging in a potted plant that is about to fall off a shelf or chewing wires that are plugged into the wall—something clearly dangerous.
- Tape: Cats hate weird textures and sticky things—tape especially. If your cat is scratching furniture, you can purchase special sticky tape or use masking tape to line the furniture to prevent scratching. I also recommend getting your cat's nails trimmed regularly and making sure they have scratching posts available.
- Physical barriers: If you need your cat to move, use a neutral object to scoot them—never use your hands. You do not want your cat to associate your hands with punishment or else your cat will redirect on you. Use something like a rigid piece of cardboard to "scoot" your cat off the counter, or use something like a broom to sweep the floor upon which you want your cat to move. Better an inanimate object than your body or hand.
What Your Cat Needs to Be Happy
Cats often act out because they are not receiving a necessity. This may include adequate:
- Vet care (health issues)
If you are providing the necessities, and your cat's behavior has really gotten out of control, you may want to consult with your veterinarian or a certified cat behaviorist. Behavior modification therapy is always best. Feel free to ask questions below.
How I Trained My Cat to Walk on a Leash
- How to Train Your Cat to Walk on a Leash or Cat Harness
Yes—cats can walk on leashes. Training your cat to walk on a leash or harness comes with its advantages. Learn how to acclimate your cat to the process so you can get out there and enjoy nature together.
© 2019 Laynie H
Mia on August 30, 2020:
I tried to put my cat in time out but when I let him out he’s worse!!! What should I do?!
Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 26, 2019:
Papi Kitty sounds amazing Ana! This is true, I feel like cats that grow up around dogs tend to exhibit more "canine" behaviors. Our dog even tries to play with cat wands and cat toys that our cat enjoys and doesn't quite understand why it's supposed to be fun. So cute! Thank for sharing! Papi Kitty is a cute name!
Ana Izquierdo on January 26, 2019:
We got our kitten he fit in our hand. His name is Papi Kitty he now almost 1 year old. We have 4 dogs 2 are American Stafford mixed and 1 a pitbull and then we have 1 with pitbull mixed Dachshund. The cat thinks he is cat/dog I open the door in the morning to let the dogs run out Pappi Kitty goes out to go potty then he comes inside with the dogs. If he gets hungry he will eat dog food. We love our PAPI KITTY
Frostiebe on January 25, 2019:
low maintenance would be great
Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 21, 2019:
Tranquil, thanks so much for sharing! This is TRUE! We tried several different litters with my found kitten (she was a stray) and she finally took to one type—unscented wheat. She's been fairly adaptable, but yes indeed, cats are very particular about EVERYTHING. I admire them for it. I love both dogs and cats, but cats are pretty good at getting their way. Interesting that your cat was surrendered for not getting along with the others—we are still dealing with the age gap between our 1-year-old and 5-year-old. Our kitten gets along with the dog wonderfully, but the two cats are polar opposite personalities. Oh, the wild world of critters! Thanks for sharing your tip on trying a gentle type of litter for sensitive paws.
Tranquilheart from Canada on January 21, 2019:
Good article. Litter box issues are very tricky. I have a 7 yr old long haired cat that is a total princess.She was surrendered because she didn't get along with other cats. I've never encountered such a finicky cat. I had to try 3 types of litter before settling on regular non clumping clay in an uncovered litter box. She'd limp about & sometimes poop around the house. Naturally we thought it was because of a health issue. But the vet found no problems. I tried someone's advice & bought a "softer" litter, pellets made of recycled paper and she loves it. I guess she has sensitive paws. Just sharing here in case some one else has this issue with their cat.
1. Understand the reason for their misbehavior
As much you would like to believe that your kitten is showing undesirable behavior just for fun or spite there may be an actual reason for it. This is why the first step in their training would be to understand the main reason for their behavior.
For example, you might have seen that your kitten always urinates outside the litter box no matter how many times you have trained them.
It is possible that the reason your kitten urinates outside the litter box is that it has some urinary problems due to which they are unable to reach the litter box in time.
This is why you need to show your kitten to a veterinarian to rule out any medical behavior as the reason for their undesirable behavior.
Just like raising a child, raising a cat sometimes means dealing with bad behavior. Look at these times as opportunities to show your pet companion that he has to respect you and your home. To nip bad behavior in the bud, shake a can of coins or squirt him with water when you catch him in the act. Also, lavish him with praise and treats when he displays good behavior, such as scratching a scratching post instead of the couch. The positive experience will make him want to keep up the good work.
What to Avoid
- Cats don’t respond to punishment well. Instead of connecting the punishment to an action, they connect it to the punishing person. Do not yell at your cat or hit them for going on the counter. They’ll become scared of you, not the counter.
- Don’t push your cat off countertops and tables. They may hurt themselves.
- Don’t use any deterrent that could hurt your cat.
Animal Humane Society: “Keeping your cat off the counter.”
Humane Society of Huron Valley: “KEEPING CATS OFF OF COUNTERTOPS.”
Killeen Veterinary Clinic: “Why cats like to relax and sleep up high.”
VCA Hospitals: “Preventing and Punishing Undesirable Behavior in Cats.”
How to Stop Petting Aggression in Cats
Cat lovers frequently ask for help in stopping aggressive behavior in their cats—but there are many kinds of aggression, and a one-size-fits-all program doesn’t work.
Of the several types of cat aggression, none confuses, frustrates, and frightens most owners as much as petting aggression, also called status-related aggression. The cat begs for attention and loves the petting, but then bites you after only a few strokes.
These cats use the “leave me alone” bite to stop interactions such as petting, being lifted or approached, or being moved from a favorite perch. It's a very common behavior in cats, but you can work with your pet to stop it.