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How To Discipline Your Cat (The Right Way)

If you’re a cat owner, you may have come to the conclusion that ‘cat’ and ‘discipline’ can’t be used in the same sentence. Your attempts at discipline probably go something like this:

Training and disciplining a cat takes time and patience. Unlike dogs, cats really could care less whether they are pleasing you or not – after all, they own you, not the other way around! Cats have their own distinctive personalities, and they’re not above letting you know who’s boss. Before you wave your little white flag in full surrender mode, take heart in knowing that there are some measures you can put in place to keep kitty in line – or at least make him a little less naughty!

Here are 5 of the most common discipline methods:

  1. 1. Time out
  2. 2. Booby trap
  3. 3. Diversion
  4. 4. Spray Your Cat With Water
  5. 5. Unpleasant smell placement

1. Time Out

This is probably one of the easiest ways to train your cat. It works best with undesirable behavior like jumping on counters, climbing curtains or scratching furniture. When you notice them engaging in these activities, pick them up and gently remove them from the room. Ideally, you should place them in a room that is not easy for them to get out of. The key is to make the time-outs short and speak to them in a firm voice. “No,” “Stop,” and “Get Down” are all effective.

If your cat is being overly playful by climbing up your legs and using you as their personal jungle gym, then you can be the one to leave the room. That lets them know that the ‘game’ is over and they will have to find another way to entertain themselves; preferably with a toy that you’ve provided them.

2. Booby Trap

This method works well if your cat is constantly jumping up on counters or other surfaces. Place a pile of light boxes or objects where he jumps; the ‘booby trap’ will collapse and scare him off. He will soon associate this with jumping and will learn not to go to that area. Make sure the booby trap you build is not made of heavy objects, or objects that may harm him. Be prepared to clean up the mess once you get home!

Your cat may run and hide for a few minutes after the crash, and that’s ok. As long as you know he’s not hurt, give him his space and let him chill for a bit. He’ll come out again when he’s ready, and he’ll think twice before jumping up on that counter again!

3. Diversion

Is your cat eating your plants again? Are they enamored by the shiny ornaments on your Christmas tree and the presents underneath it? Try diverting their attention with a favorite toy or activity that will divert their attention away from their naughty behavior. If you do this often enough, they will forget all about those plants! Note: Some plants can be extremely toxic to cats (such as Poinsettias) so keep these away from them.

4. Spray Your Cat With Water

Ahh, cat’s love water, right? Not! This is a quick method of getting your misbehaving cat to stop whatever it is they’re doing. Fill a spray bottle with water, and keep it handy in areas you don’t want them getting into – by your plants, for example. If they start to chew, give them a light spray to let them know that they are delving into unacceptable territory! Most cats will quickly stop what they’re doing and run off. Make sure the water bottle is set to ‘mist’ instead of a stream, so that your cat doesn’t get injured. Also, spray from behind so that you cat doesn’t see you.

5. Unpleasant Smell Placement

This works well if your cat goes into areas of your home you don’t want him to; or, if he is using an area of the room as his litter box. There are certain smells and scents that cats naturally dislike. These include orange peels, eucalyptus, aloe, wintergreen, citronella and perfumes. Soak a cotton pad or ball with one of these scents and place it in areas you want him to stay away from.

While your cat may not turn into a ‘people pleaser’ he will learn to obey the boundaries that you’ve set; at least most of the time. The key is to be consistent and firm. Don’t let him climb up onto the counter one day, and scold him the next. He will get confused as to what is allowed and what isn’t.

Disciplining your cat is an important part of his development (and your sanity) but remember to show him plenty of love and affection too. Use a soft voice when petting or holding him, so he knows that he can come to you when he needs some love. Always use a different, more stern voice when disciplining.

(Photo Credit: Gavin Whitner)

What Not To Do

Never punish or discipline your cat by hitting it or yelling at it. Why? Well first, because these are for the most part helpless animals that depend on you for their well-being. And second, because if they become fearful of you, they will become timid and run away when they see you. You want their affection, not their fear.

Your cat needs to know that they can trust you and that you will always be there to give them the vital essentials, like food and water. Don’t let their food and water dishes go empty or they’ll learn that they can’t depend on you. This can make them behave aggressively. If you are away during the day, or for long periods of time, consider investing in an automatic cat feeder, and/or a water fountain.

Never punish your cat after the fact; if you get home from work and find a vase knocked off the table, scolding will only confuse him. He won’t understand that he did something wrong. Discipline only works when you catch them in the act. Remember that cats are curious and they don’t annoy you on purpose! It’s just their natural instincts.

Bonus: Litter Training

If your cat is using areas around your home as their litter box, there could be several reasons. First, make sure that their litter box is cleaned out regularly. When you clean the box, don’t use harsh smells or chemicals, as this could irritate them. Another reason they may be doing this is that they are stressed or anxious about something – has there been a new addition to the household lately? Try using the unpleasant scent method to deter kitty from doing his bathroom duties outside of his litter box.

You might have to test out a couple of different discipline methods before finding one that works best. The one that works will depend largely on the type of unwanted behavior they’re exhibiting and your cat’s personality. Keep in mind that while you’re disciplining, you’re also building a strong bond that will last forever. Show him plenty of love and affection and give him attention when he wants it. Respect his boundaries and don’t force him to cuddle or sit with you if he’s not in the mood.

Annie is the founder of MeowKai, where she and her associates write about cat behavior, health issues, and tips and tricks on how to get your cat to behave! It concentrates on creating the best life for you and your cat so you can enjoy each other’s company and build that trust that is so important between pet and human.

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