Teaching Good Manners to Cats
I am going to skip over how to responsibly get a kitten/cat, what to feed your pet, and anything related to vet care
. There's lots of information about those topics here already, so I don't feel the need to rehash it.
I'm also making a few assumptions here. First off, that your kitten is healthy, eating well, and well socialized. If your kitten is ill, feral, or hasn't become comfortable with you yet you will see alterations to the basics to use. The basic principles can also be applied to adults, and I have added extra notes on how to use my tips for an adult cat.
I highly recommend everyone does these things with their kitten. It will help ensure you end up with a loving cat that you can easily handle and care for without stress to your pet or harm to yourself.
So, in order of importance IMO:
-Paw Handling/Nail trimming
-Playing nicely with people
-Wearing a harness
By 'handling' I mean that at least once a day you pick up your kitten, snuggle them and rub them all over. I suggest going top to bottom. Look in their mouth, eyes, nose, ears. Rub their chest, back, paws, tummy, hindquarters, tail.
With a kitten that's young, under 12 weeks, keep this breif and fun. Never, under any circumstances, put them down if they fuss! If they fuss simply hold the kitten firmly until they calm down, then continue your handling.
If you always put them down when they fuss you will not be able to do anything they don't like when they are an adult.
If the kitten shows over-the-top signs of stress you can put them down, and you should likely be more gentle next time. These signs include screaming (NOT just meowing), hissing/spitting, real biting or scratching. (Not Play biting/scratching...to see the difference keep reading)
(*note: for feral kittens see the feral's forum
if they are over 8 weeks...under 8 weeks you might still be able to do this. It will largely depend on the kitten.)
Handling sessions do go better if your kitten is sleepy or has just had a big playtime. Don't try to snuggle a kitten who's in full play mode, at least not at first.
Paw Handling/Nail trimming
This is important enough to be separate from regular handling. Paw handling should be done anytime you are having a snuggle, or whenever they are calm enough. Make a point of being calm and relaxed when you do this, no tickling toes or you're making it a game which will be no fun with an adult.
Always try to exercise the kitten before you start paw handling.
Calmly hold a front paw, stroke it, gently play with their toes. Get a nice close look, no pressure yet. When they calmly accept this part move on to gently pushing each toe down so the nail pops out. Hold it their gently for a second, then release. Do this with each toe on each paw, not necessarily all at the same time. Don't stress them out with paw handling.
When you can easily manipulate each toe start introducing trimmers. Cradle the kitten with one arm, with that hand hold the paw out and hold out a nail. I like to practice this posture as that will also help reduce stress. Have the trimmers nearby, sneak them out and snip the very tip of one claw. Do the rest of your paw handling normally, no more trimming! One nail a night for as long as it takes.
Gradually work up to the point where they don't care at all when you trim, but don't release them even if they fuss. (Think of fussing at this point more like a temper tantrum. If you give in they learn it works!)
When one nail is easy work up to two nails, then three, ect. Go very slowly. If you become impatient and stress the cat out you could very easily wind up with an adult cat who will not let you trim their nails.
With an adult cat who hates nail trimming you go even slower. Start by having a yummy treat in one hand, and gently running you hand down their leg starting at the shoulder. Pay close attention to your cat, when they tense keep your hand where it is, feed them the treat, and be done.
Do this step until you can calmly handle their paws, using treats as necessary. You are teaching them that people holding their paws brings yummy things.
Then very gradually work up to trimming one nail. Keep in mind with an adult cat you are also having to build trust that may have been broken, or never given. If you push them to fast you take several large steps back, and you lose their trust!
Playing Nicely With People
Cats don't do things on purpose to annoy/hurt us. They just don't think that way.
To fix the issue you need to be aware that you pet isn't hurting you on purpose. I find that really helps with increasing your patience, because that's what you're going to need lots of!
When kittens want to play with each other they start the game with a pounce. Keep that in mind and be grateful that your pet wants to play with you. If she does pounce you as an invitation to play you want to teach her a new way to start the game.
You'll see a certain glint in her eye, a wiggle in her walk, when she's about to pounce you. Before she does pounce you grab a toy that will keep the play away from your body. Wand toys or laser pointers are best at this stage. I ask my kitties to sit before I start a game, I leave that option up to you.
If she has already pounced you keep in mind that she is trying to get you to play, and that you didn't catch it before she pounced. Even though it hurts when b\she bites and scratches show as little reaction as possible. She is hoping to get a reaction out of you, so if you react she is 'winning'. That means she's getting what she wants, a reaction, so she will continue to do that behavior.
The best thing you can do is ignore her and wait her out. If she gets to the point where you cannot ignore the behavior then stand up and go lock yourself in the bathroom, interacting with your pet as little as possible. Don't even look at her.
Wait until she calms down/leaves you alone and then go get a toy. I suggest something either very large like a big stuffed animal, or something like a laser pointer or wand toy. Basically something she can't misinterpret to be you.
Make sure you pay attention to her lots when she's being nice. When she's a sweet nice kitty that's when the toys come out and when you show her the most attention. This way she learns that being good is the behavior that gets her the things she likes.
Basically you give her lots of fun things when she's good, and no fun things when she's naughty.
Along with this I suggest getting her used to a kennel or 'naughty room', and a harness. Use lots of yummy goodies to introduce both to her.
In my house I leave the kennels open, with a towel in each. The kitties regularly nap in them, and I have them scattered throughout the house so that there's lots of options. This makes the kennel a nice place rather than 'that scary box that takes me to the man with the needles!'
I'll address older cats who are already terrified of kennels at the end of this section.
With a kitten simply use treats and toys. Throw something fun into the kennel, let her go in and 'discover' it. Praise her for going in the kennel, ect. make it an enjoyable place to spend her time.
I also use kennels when my cats have been naughty. When Doran was about 12-14 weeks and he tried to get me to play by biting I would say "Doran, uh uh." And wait. If he did it again I would calmly pick him up and place him in a kennel for a short time. Less than 1 minute. When I brought him out again I was ready with another toy and we would play with that instead.
If he again tried to bite same deal, back in the kennel for a short time out.
The key to a time out is that you must be calm. All you're trying to teach her is that if she's naughty the fun stuff goes away. Timeouts should never be longer than 5 minutes, and that only to clean up a mess without tripping over a kitty!
For adult cats you must go slow. Just like with the nail trimming. Start by taking the door off the carrier, otherwise they can bang and scare an already cautious cat. Leave the carrier in one of the rooms you use lots, and put yummy smelly treats just inside the door. Then pretend like it doesn't exist. Continue pretending it doesn't exist for as long as it takes for your cat to investigate it. very skittish cats, or cats who HATE the kennel won't eat the treats or go anywhere near the kennel when you are in the room. That's fine, just keep refreshing the treats until they will go in or eat the treat with you there.
When they are calm with you in the room, or near the kennel practice just throwing treats and toys in. When they are completely comfortable that's when you progress. If you don't need to use the carrier for time outs then just make that your nightly treat place. Give them a bedtime, or morning, treat there every day. That way when the time comes for the vet they'll have no issues jumping right in the carrier for you. Ta DA!
Wearing a Harness
Partly because I had two kittens at once, partly because I was concerned what would happen with Jitzu and Torri, and partly because they were just so darn naughty my boys wore harnesses until the were over 6 months.
I liked the harnesses because I could use them to safely remove the boys from the (many) sticky spots they got themselves into, and to catch them if they did something especially naughty or dangerous.
With little ones just put the harness on, tighten it so there's no way they could get their jaw or paw in it, and leave it on. Kittens might fuss about it, but they'll get over it very quickly. Practice putting it on and taking it off too. use lots of treats to take off and put on the harness, and try to do it as quickly as you can.
With an older cat it is still possible to put a harness on them...once. if you need to harness train a cat use lots of treats, and don't even try to put it on them at all for at least 2 days. Then just put the head part on briefly, long enough to feed a treat, take it off, feed a treat.
progress that way until they are comfortable putting it on. Then put it on, make a trail of cookies and when they reach the end of the trail take it off. this will teach an adult cat that they can still walk with a harness on.
If they simply freeze and lie on their side take two steps back, and go slower.
You need to be able to tell your pet when she is about to do something naughty, or dangerous. I say 'Uh uh'. To my kitties, that means "You are doing something mummy doesn't like, consequences will come if you don't stop."
Don't pick "No", we say it waaaay too often when it has nothing to do with our pets, this can confuse them and make it less effective. If you use 'No' you get one f\of two responses, generally.
1. They always ignore the word 'no'. So even though you might be screaming "No! Ginger NO!. Bad cat! NO! NO NO NO NO NO! Not my lamp!" *crash*
Your cat is thinking Mum just keeps saying that word...I already know it doesn't mean anything. You said it to Dad earlier, and to the thing that has other peoples voices coming out of it, and you say it to the little person LOTS. I get it, it doesn't effect me.
2. They never ignore the word 'no'. this usually happens to skittish or nervous pets, especially smart ones who want to please you. They react every single time you say that word. So when you're telling your husband/significant other you don't want dinner your pet is thinking Oh god! What did I do? I'm sorry Mum, I didn't mean it!
Other than that what sound you pick is up to you. Don't pick their name because you want them to think good things when they hear their own name, but you can pick "bananas!" or "Golf!" whatever floats your boat.
When you use a negative word you also have to have positive words that happen when they are doing the right things. Make a point of saying certain words (short is best) when good things are happening. typically we pick "Good", "Nice", "Pretty", ect. That's fine as in this case it's mostly the tone that will convey your meaning.
So, for example:
Jitzu is on the counter. I say "Jitzu, uh uh." Wait a second as she jumps down, then say "Good girl Jitzu!" And pet her. She learns I like it when her feet stay on the ground, and I pet her when I like things, so that's good.
When you start using a correcting word you must ALWAYS give them a different behavior to do, then make that the better choice.
Don't jump on the counter, sit on this stool and get treats.
Don't claw my furniture, here this cat tree smell like catnip!
Don't scratch/bite me, kill this toy.
This way they will learn which behavior it is that you DO like, and they will do it more often.
(Keep in mind that even though you don't like what they are doing it might still be something their instincts tell them to do. So it's not really 'bad', just undesirable.)
As of now this is Part 1. If enough people express an interest, here or via PM I'll make more.
Enjoy and good luck!