What is a good kitty?
Ask any cat parent, and they’ll tell you a good cat stays off the kitchen counter. They’ll tell you he doesn’t scratch their furniture, and he absolutely doesn’t meow all night. Maybe, if they anthropomorphize, they’ll describe a clever cat who cleans his own litter box too.
But what if you ask the cat?
Cats are natural-born predators. They live for the hunt and it’s their instinctual behavior that brought humans and cats together thousands of years ago when cats took on the important role of rodent patrol.
Since the reign of Henry VIII, for instance, Downing Street has employed a cat as a resident hunter and pet. Larry, a 15-year-old tabby, now holds the official title of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom—and the record for holding it the longest.
What’s happening isn’t your fault. You’ve made sacrifices, while given advice that’s been inconsistent at best and contradictory at worst. People in power have set a bad example. I’m sorry you’re being asked to do more and disgusted you’re being blamed. #covidbriefing pic.twitter.com/3oEFz2P5Jy— Larry the Cat (@Number10cat) September 22, 2020
While some anonymous sources have accused Larry of being asleep on the job, Larry says his approach to mouse patrol is “still in the tactical planning stage,” according to the 10 Downing Street website.
I don’t consider myself a cat expert, but I’ve lived with four cats over the past two decades, including two part Siamese, a breed prone to anxiety-related behavioral problems, like peeing outside the litter box. And while I haven’t always been the perfect cat parent, I’m getting pretty good at it.
In this post, I’ll explain why you should change your approach to cat training, why spray bottles and screaming don’t work, and reveal how you too can train your cat to behave even when you’re not around.
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Why punishment doesn’t work
In his book, Total Cat Mojo, Jackson Galaxy suggests, “squirt bottles and scary voices don’t work.” The only thing they do, he says, is tell the cat “that when you’re around, they shouldn’t do something. And when you’re not around, they will.” Further, it damages your relationship with your cat.
Galaxy is originally from Boulder. He’s a tattoo clad man in his early fifties, with a sculpted goatee and a fistful of silver rings. A self-described cat behaviorist by day and rock ‘n roll musician by night, he’s also the host of Animal Planet’s “My Cat From Hell“ and the web series Cat Mojo. Armed with a guitar case filled with cat toys, he works one-on-one with cats and cat parents in their homes to resolve behavior issues and conflict.
If you watch one of Galaxy’s YouTube videos, he’s surrounded by cats—from 3D cutouts and photos to snow globes and miniature statues. He peers into the camera. “Step away from the squirt bottle,” he pleads with any cat parent watching. Otherwise you’re doomed to follow your cat around 24×7.
Because the only way to train your cat not to do something is consistent reinforcement.
See related:3 Guides To Train Your Cat Like A Cat Behaviorist
How to automate your training
Most of your cat’s annoying behavior has a logical explanation: Jumping on the counter? Hunting food. Spraying urine on the wall? Marking territory. Scratching your upholstered accent chair? Cleaning claws.
But just because your cat’s natural behavior is well-founded, doesn’t mean you can live with it.
A few years ago I went to Santa Fe, New Mexico to look at properties. I scoured real estate websites and compiled a list of potential houses for us. It had been years since my last visit, so I knew that a realtor was my best hope to navigate the market in a short amount of time.
After rooting around on the internet, I discovered Nancy. She’s a certified residential specialist, consistently in the top 10%, and her clients used words like phenomenal, smart, and resourceful to describe her. But what grabbed me was the photo on her Yelp profile of her fluffy feline Fifi. Further, she’s a former board member of the humane society. And, I knew she would get me.
While house hunting with Nancy, we discussed how to keep my cats from dashing outside into the vast San de Cristo Mountains. “It’s easy,” she said, “I’ll show you exactly how to train your cat like I trained Fifi and they’ll never go outside again.”
As a parting gift, Nancy gave me her secret weapon: a can of SSSCAT, a motion-activated deterrent that lets out a puff of air when your cat gets too close to an off-limits zone. Back home I decided to see if it would teach my cats not to spray the curtains, an unsavory hobby they picked up before the trip.
The can of air stopped my cats in their tracks and I immediately ordered more. Within two days I saved hundreds of dollars in drying cleaning bills that more than covered the cost of the cans.
When you should compromise
“Scent is your cat’s calling card,” says Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of “Psycho Kitty“. Which is why it didn’t shock me to discover a fresh-baked loaf of bread afloat in the sink with a big chunk missing a few weeks ago.
As hunters, food is a prime motivator for cats. Coupled with their love of heights, food left unattended on the kitchen counter creates an obvious temptation. The truth is most cats can jump 5 – 7 feet in milliseconds and the average kitchen counter in the US is only 36 inches. So, it poses a meager challenge to grab the food and slink away.
After baking a new loaf of bread, I set it on the kitchen counter and planted the motion-activated SSSCat in front of it.
Ffffffffffffff! The sweet sound of another loaf of bread saved.
Successful cat parents acknowledge they live with cats and adapt. Whether it’s giving your cat a stool at counter height so they can be part of the action at a safe distance, or putting food away when you’re not around, compromise is the secret to a lasting relationship.
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