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Training A Cat - Cat Behaviour Problems

Updated on February 11, 2011

Train a Cat? Is this even possible?

Well, whether you're just curious in knowing the answer to the question ("is training a cat possible?), or you have specific cat problems or cat behavior you want to resolve, here is some information which will help you.

Clearly, cats and dogs are different. If you want to train your cat to sit, stay or heel, then you might want to consider getting a dog instead. If you'd be happy training your cat to use the litter box instead of the comforter, closet or your shoes; or using the scratching post instead of the stereo speakers, then this Hub is for you.

Cat Training – How Cats Learn

Since cats don't speak English (or whatever language you normally use), and you don't speak “feline,” then you need to know how cats learn. If you observe a mother cat and her kittens, you'll quickly see Mom rewarding her kittens for good behavior. This is how kittens and cats learn.

How to train a cat?  Cats learn by experience, and just as importantly, cats choose to be as comfortable as they possibly can be. With this in mind, the rule of the day for cat training is – if the experience is good, then the cat will repeat it, and if the experience is bad or unpleasant, then the cat will avoid it. The key to training a cat is to make sure whatever you want your cat to do is very pleasurable and rewarding for the cat; AND whatever you do not want your cat to do is not pleasant and never fun or rewarding.

Occasionally, you unintentionally reward behavior you don't want. For example: it's an early hour of the morning. You're still blissfully asleep...but not for long. Your cat pounces on you and/or starts meowing up a storm or otherwise becomes a major pest. What do you do? You get up and feed the cat, or pet the cat, or let the cat outside. Kitty has just learned his behavior gets him exactly what he wants. Therefore, the cat behavior you don't want continues.

Cat Behaviour Problems

Sometimes owners get frustrated because they can't seem to catch the cat in the act of doing the prohibited behavior, so they show the cat the evidence (wet spot on the carpet, shredded drapes, etc.) and then discipline the cat. Grabbing the cat, shoving it's nose in the wet spot (or showing the shredded drapes), yelling, and then shoving the cat into the litter box is not going to accomplish anything. It certainly isn't going to solve your cat behaviour problems.

Well, actually it will accomplish a couple of things. Your cat will learn that being caught is a bad experience & the litter box is a torture chamber. Reprimands simply do not work when training a cat. If you catch your cat in the act, then he'll only misbehave when you're not around. If you punish the cat after the act, then the cat will associate the reprimand with the crime. Either way, the behavior continues. Some cats will even misbehave just to get attention, and the attention is enough of a reward to cause the cat to continue behaving that way. So what do you do?

Cat Training Plan

Stop all reprimands & punishments – no matter what the cat is doing. Make your relationship with your cat fun, playful and rewarding. Occasionally, this alone will stop the bad behavior. Cats can become overactive and destructive when they get bored. Cats that feel neglected often stop using the litter box.

A major point here - do NOT EVER hit a cat. It doesn't work. The cat never learns what you're trying to teach this way, AND they learn never to trust you, and will not become a loving cat.

Making sure to have regular time with your cat, giving him/her your undivided attention and playing games will have huge impact on their behavior...even litter box problems can disappear almost overnight. The amount of time doesn't have to be a lot – 10 or 15 minutes a day or night is usually enough.

The most effective method of cat training is by rewarding the cat. Praise him for his good behavior. For litter box training – remember, a cat's system is regular. You have control over the feeding, and therefore you control the output. Kitty should have a regular feeding schedule so he has a regular output schedule. Adjust the feeding time so you can be present when he needs to go. When he uses the litter box, praise the heck out of him! Give him a treat for his good behavior.

Scratching problem? First, make kitty's scratching post fun & enjoyable. Make sure it's big enough for him/her to play & scratch on. Also, if your cat enjoys catnip, rub some on the scratching post. Now, you need to make your furniture unappealing to your cat. Instead of telling your cat to avoid the furniture, let the furniture tell the cat to stay away. Each cat is different, but you have several choices to make your furniture unappealing. Most cats don't like to snag their claws when scratching, so you might consider putting some netting or tulle cloth over the furniture. Some cats don't like the feel of aluminum foil or two-sided sticky tape. A mild menthol or a citrus scent will repel many cats.

Once your cat realizes your furniture is not fun to scratch on, and he/she has wonderful times using the scratching post, the inappropriate scratching will disappear.

Another good tip for training a cat is the fact that cats hate loud noises. So if you make a loud noise (like clapping your hands together, or using a clicker device). The cat normally makes the connection between doing the "bad" behavior and the loud noise - and will stop doing the unwanted behavior.

Remember, cats learn best through positive reinforcement (rewards) and praise.

Your cat is a member of your family. Spend time with your cat each day, even if it's only for a short while. Doing so will reap rewards – you'll be happier & your cat will be happier.


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    • Jean Nash profile imageAUTHOR

      Jean Keith 

      6 years ago from TX


      Thanks for such a lovely comment...I'm thrilled you enjoy my Hub. I appreciate you taking the time to write a comment. Should you have a question, or need more info, just let me know, I'll be happy to help to the best of my ability.

      Warm Regards,


    • Mmargie1966 profile image


      6 years ago from Gainesville, GA

      Hi Jean! Love this hub! Thanks for all the information.

    • Jean Nash profile imageAUTHOR

      Jean Keith 

      6 years ago from TX

      Hey Kim,

      You're certainly welcome - hope it helps. Again, KUDOS to you (and your understanding husband) for rescuing animals, especially special needs animals!

      Perhaps you could do a "partial" separation. What I mean is allow her to run around & play with those cats she gets along with, but with definite human supervision. As soon as the cat(s) she doesn't get along with come into the picture, then separate her. Also, at night, keep her separated.

      This allows her the freedom & joy of interacting with other cats she gets along with, but keeps the negative things to a minimum. This would also reduce the need for a normal "load" in any litter box in the bedroom since she'd have access to the other litter boxes when she's allowed to run free.

      Just some more food for thought for you...


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks, Jean! I am in rescue and this is just what I do - in aside for giving thanks for good enzyme cleaners, I am also thankful for my understanding husband! :)

      I appreciate your response and offer to contact you directly. I will look into the homeopathic remedies you mentioned - they certainly can't hurt! We will also consider keeping the timid female in her own space. I understand the idea, and realize it may be what needs to be done, but this kitty gets a lot of joy running around and playing with the other cats she gets along with. The only room we'd have to do this in is our bedroom, which is where I contained her before. The dusty litter box got to be too much, though, and I removed it and effectively ended her containment. (We have 8 litter boxes elsewhere in the house, so I'd really, really like to avoid having one in my bedroom if possible!)

      Thanks again,


    • Jean Nash profile imageAUTHOR

      Jean Keith 

      6 years ago from TX

      Hi Kim,

      First of all, Kudos to you for taking on the responsibility of 3 special needs cats and wanting to still work things out. Not many would be brave enough, or patient enough to do this.

      After reading all you've done (Feliway, positive reinforcement, etc.), it seems you've more than covered all the bases. I agree with you that rehoming the cats would be a huge challenge due to the cats being special needs. And I would also really prefer you being able to keep all three cats in your household (and hopefully have peace in your household while doing it.).

      Have you tried any homeopathic remedies for the aggressive male? (and yes, I totally agree, the urination by him outside the box is territorial). Camomile is very calming and might help in this instance. I would give it to all the cats & see how well they respond. Also, you might want to try using Rescue Remedy (which is a "Bach flower remedy") for the timid female cat. Use a drop or two and rub it into her ears. Both homeopathic and Bach flower remedies are useful for both humans and cats.

      Other than that - the only other thing I can think of would be to keep the timid cat in an enclosure, in a separate room. Let her out, like you've done in the past so she can get some exercise & interaction with her human family, but then place her in an enclosure in a separate room. This will help keep the other cats from harming her & give her, her own space.

      It might sound cruel at first, but it will help protect her, and if you approach it from the point of view that it is her "special place" then she should eventually see she's safe when she's in the enclosure and this should bring you some much needed peace & harmony in your household.

      Since I'm not sure about all the details of your household, I'm open to your contacting me via email and we can discuss this in more detail - if this is something you'd like to pursue. Just hit the "contact Jean Nash" button on the top right side of the hub.

      Glad you like my Hubs. Hope I've been of some help to you.

      Warm Regards,


    • profile image

      Kim again 

      6 years ago

      P.S. Just in case you are wondering, I really would rather not rehome the female cat. But that would be the most strategic move. If I look at rehoming the males, that would be two cats to rehome, plus, they also have pretty significant special needs. The one has CH and the other has only one eye and a condition that will require regular visits to the feline eye doc; he will potentially lose the other eye - it is rare I can find adopters who are interested in the burden or expense of a special needs situation. Thanks!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hi Jean,

      Love your site. You obviously have lots of experience I'm hoping I can tap. We have 5 cats in our house, all rescues, all spayed/neutered, all in the 2-3 year old range, with the exception of reformed Tom cat, who is 6 (the alpha). We have one female cat lacking in confidence, who has been a target of two of our male cats (she had this same problem at her previous foster home). One constantly chases her and she sometimes defends herself; with this one, she'll sleep on the same bed and even rub up against him at feeding time, so I know it's not terribly serious, even though sometimes it does get out of hand and goes beyond playfulness. This male will sometimes pounce on the female as she exits the litter box, which has caused her to urinate out of the box.

      We have another cat who is relentless in his attempts to catch her - I believe he would kill her if he could. The strange thing is he has cerebellar hypoplasia and is very wobbly, however, he manages to get after her at times. We do all we can to keep everyone separated, but at times, it's just not possible (such as when our young child forgets to close the door to one floor and allows our CH cat free run of the house - he climbs stairs).

      We try to give everyone time to have run of the house, as well as attention from we humans, which means closing cats up in various rooms at regular intervals on a daily basis.

      I'm mostly worried about our CH cat. He is normally very sweet and loving with us, and when our timid kitty is not around, but as soon as he glimpses her, he turns into a wolverine and chases her for all he's worth. He has caughter her a time or two and they've had full-on fights, complete with him tearing clumps of her hair out. He also tends to urinate outside the box if we don't keep an eye on him, which I think is totally territorial. (Thank goodness for enzyme cleaners!)

      Do you have any suggestions for curbing this aggressive behavior? We have tried Feliway, reintroductions, lots of positive reimforcement, etc. Nothing is working. I'm at my wits end. I've tried to rehome the timid kitty, but she is also special needs to a degree (weepy eye due to blocked tear duct that can't be fixed, anal glands that need to be expressed every 5-6 weeks, and she is black, which we have found is harder to rehome).

      Help, please!



    • Jean Nash profile imageAUTHOR

      Jean Keith 

      6 years ago from TX

      Hey LucyDann,

      Sorry to hear you've got a few challenges with your feral/stray kitty girl. As I said on my other Hub, remember, lots of Love and patience go a very long way. This is no different.

      While you are right - you have to be careful of not stepping on a cat's tail or paw...if they are doing the cat dance around your ankles, it's hard not to. Luckily for you (and all of us), most cats DO understand that we humans are clumsy and eventually do forgive our trespasses. (As I said...your mantra should be lots of love and patience.)

      Also, cats are normally very territorial. As winter gets a stronger hold on us and our surroundings, all the outside creatures start becoming more concerned about their welfare. Their survival instincts are at an all time high. Winter is not to be trifled with. Just keep this in mind...your lovely girl is just worried she'll make it thru the winter months. Right now, she's just not able to know you'll always be there for her. (this is where you'll just have to show her with your actions).

      Ritual is important to cats, so be sure you can set and keep as close to a schedule for her. (plus it'll be easier for you, too)

      Regular times for fresh water, food and attention is crucial. She'll get used to this, plus it helps to reassure her that yes, you'll be there for her. And also will reassure her that she'll survive another day.

      Staying with her is great. Good for you in staying with her until she finishes her food. Even though it may seem to you she doesn't "enjoy" her food...know that she truly is grateful it's provided, and helps her tremendously in surviving not only the cold winter days and nights, but helps her have the energy to hunt and do what cats need to do during the days.

      No worries about "venting." Should you want to, or need to, just hit the "contact Jean Nash" button on the top right side of my Hub. I'm happy to send you a longer email if needed.

      Bless you, too...and of course, bless your beautiful kitty!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hi, Jean, it's Lucy from your keeping outdoor cats warm thread. Thanks so much for your reply to my last post on there! I'm worried about my girl. She only seems to be getting wilder. There have been more ferals coming through her turf (my front porch and bushes) as well as the occasional raccoon and possum. Eating has become a real chore. I put her food down and where she used to scarf it up happily, now she has a ritual. She'll take some bites, then walk back to the sidewalk, where it seems she is searching for whoever might come on the turf. I cannot leave food out due to property rules, so I stay with her. She just can't enjoy her food. She's also been more skittish with me (it didn't help that I accidently stepped on her paw the other night--she attaches to my leg a lot!) She actually ran away from me last night. This is all a learning process for me! I just hope she is okay. Thanks for listening to my vent, Jean..Bless you!


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