Good Manners for Cats - Part 2 - Cat Forum : Cat Discussion Forums
 
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post #1 of 5 (permalink) Old 02-01-2011, 10:28 PM Thread Starter
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Good Manners for Cats - Part 2

See Part 1, if you haven't already



Part 2


"He did it on purpose!" / "She's spiteful/mean!" Ect.

I'm addressing this second because I hear it so very often.

In order to change the behavior you don't like you have to understand the cat's motivation. What is it about the behavior that they like or that rewards them?

Common Motivators
-Instinct
-Attention
-Food
-Illness
-Other

Instinct
This is the main motivator for what cats usually do. Things like hunting, chasing, jumping, climbing, scratching, marking, stealing food, biting, ect. When you deal with these sorts of ‘bad’ behaviors you need to remember that they are doing this because their instincts tell them to.
The best way to stop them is to provide a more appropriate outlet.

Ex:
If your cat tries to eat the hamster don’t allow them in the room with the hamster, and provide similar sized toys they can pounce and bite.

If your cat jumps at, scratches, or bites you try to find the cause of that problem. Is this a kitten who wants to play? An adult who felt cornered or scared? An elderly cat that is losing its hearing and got startled? There can be many causes behind the behavior, but they aren’t doing things just to hurt you or make you mad.

Prevention also goes a long way. Don’t leave food on the counter if you don’t want it stolen. Close the garbage lid if you don’t want them pulling things out. Tire your pet out so they don’t need to ‘pounce’ you for a play session.

Attention
This is a type of behavior that is very hard for people to deal with. It seems like they are doing it ‘on purpose to make me mad!’ when in reality they have learned that this behavior always gets your attention.

Attention seeking behavior looks like this:
You are sitting reading/on the computer/not paying attention to your cat. The cat is bored, so to get your attention they do something. The cat looks at you and then starts scratching you or a chair, jumping on the counter, chasing a sibling, meowing constantly, taking an object of yours and running around with it ect.

The problem here is that since they did that particular behavior to try and get your attention any attention you give them means they are winning.
If you scold them, get up and chase them, clap your hands, open a door for them, give them a timeout, look at them…they are getting what they wanted.

Now, that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to just sit back and let them eat your dinner or destroy your house. It just means you can’t, in any way, react directly to them.
What you can do depends on what your cat is doing. If they are scratching/biting or meowing directly at you the best thing to do is get up, act huffy (think teenage girl in a snit), and walk out of the room. If they get worse at that point it means it’s working! If they bite or scratch harder go lock yourself safely in the bathroom for 30-60 seconds then come out and get a toy to give them in place of your limbs.

If the behavior isn’t directly related to you (the cat jumps on the counter, or pulls leave off a plant, ect) do something to distract them. The distraction can’t be directed at the pet, because that’s attention, so do something random. Use a plastic bottle with a few pennies in it, and give that a shake, or throw it on the floor. Spray a plant with a spray bottle, drop a pencil or utensil on the floor.
What you’re aiming for is startling the animal into pausing in their naughty behavior, without directly interacting with them.
Once they startle and have stopped the naughty act offer something else.

Ex: Your cat looks at you, then walks up to a chair and deliberately scratches it. Without looking directly at your pet you casually grab your handy bottle-o-pennies and casually drop it on the floor. Your cat jumps, startled, and you can now call them over for snuggles/play time.

As long as they aren’t doing the negative behavior when you react to them you can give them something positive to do. In the above scenario if you had called kitty over while they were scratching the chair they think “Oh! When I scratch the chair mum/dad will call me over for snuggles, cool!” Obviously that doesn’t work. But because you startle the kitty first they forget what they had been doing.

Food
This one is pretty self explanatory. In our house food is the motivator that caused Jitzu to learn how to open cupboards, dig into garbages, chase other kitties away from the food bowl, and eventually learn to be nice to people.

If you leave food on the counter chances are, no matter how well fed your puss is, they will try to steal it at some point.

Fixing food motivated problems mostly requires prevention. In our house food is never left on the counters, everything goes into cupboards or the microwave/oven. Specific cupboards used to have baby locks (we’ve taken them off once Jitzu realized she was never going to get into them regardless of how hard she tried), and our pantry has a hook to keep it closed.

Illness
One of the most common complaints I hear is “She peed on my bed to get back at me.” or “He was mad I left him alone, so he peed on my stuff!”

This is simply not true.

If your pet (regardless of species) peed inappropriately there was an actual reason for it. The most common ones are illness, dirty litterbox (cats), and lack of house training.

When a cat pees inappropriately the most likely cause is some form of illness. To find out requires you go to a vet. You can’t just say “He looks fine. Why go to the vet?” Well, unless you have x-ray eyes and an in depth knowledge of cat physiology you can’t know just by looking at your pet.

Other
There are a few other motivators, but the biggest one left is stress.

If you go on a vacation and in your absence your cat begins peeing all over your house it was not caused by anger, but rather stress or illness.

If you have just gotten a new puppy and all of a sudden your cat refuses to snuggle and instead attacks anything within reach stress or illness are your likely causes.

If you have recently moved and your cat starts howling all day and night, stress or illness are likely causes.


It is important to remember that all of these motivators can be used to get your pet offering good behaviors. Food is an especially great reward and motivator for teaching. I used food to change Jitzu’s perception of strangers in our house from “INTRUDERS! Kill them!” to “Hey, you look kind of nice. Pet me?”

When used properly any of these motivators I mentioned can be used either to cause or to reward good behaviors. This is just as important as why they do the ‘negative’ behaviors in the first place.

Things that DO NOT motivate your cat

Now that we have talked about what might cause your cat to do something you consider inappropriate it’s time to cover things that do not motivate animals.

Your cat is NOT motivated by
-rage/hate/anger
-dislike
-vindictiveness
-stupidity

Basically you cat will NEVER do something because they don’t like you, or because they want to get back at you for something.

I know how tempting it is to believe that they are just little fuzzy people just like you. But the truth is that your pet is an animal. This doesn’t make the feelings that they have any less meaningful, or any less true. But in accepting that they are an animal you have to realize that they aren’t actually human. Meaning they do differ from us in some ways.

Animals are not capable of vindictiveness.
If your new puppy pees on the floor they did not do it to spite you. They did not “know they were wrong”. They did it because they do not yet understand that peeing in the house in not allowed, and they had to go.

If your cat pees on your bed when you went on vacation they likely were incredibly stressed out, and unfortunately when cats are stressed their instincts tell them to pee where they feel most comfortable. So take that as a compliment, your smell makes your pet feel comforted.

Your cat does not scratch your chair because they hate you, maybe they like the texture as much as you do!

Your cat did not take your dinner because they believe themselves to be ‘dominant’ over you…they thought your steak smelled very yummy and you weren’t watching.


I’m sorry if I’m saying this too plainly, but I find that this is the concept people have the most trouble with when training their pet. I would much rather over-explain this, than have someone misunderstand what I’m trying to get across.

In order to do something to make you mad they would have to go through a thought pattern like this:
1. I’m mad at mum for not giving me a treat.
2. I want mum to be unhappy.
3. Mum doesn’t like it when I pee on her bed.
4. I should pee on her bed.

The truth is most animals are not capable of this type of thought train. Their actual thought patterns are more like this:
1. I want attention.
2. Mum always gives me attention when I scratch her chair.
3. I’ll scratch her chair.
And that is only after many, many repetitions.

Notice how in the first thought pattern the cat uses abstract thought. They have to be aware that other being have emotions, and how to spark those emotions. Mum…when do children learn other people have emotions? Around 3-4?
Kitties, I’m sorry to say, are not as intelligent as a 3-4 year old human in many ways.

I’m sure you folks have noticed that throughout these two parts I have used ‘bad’ and ‘naughty’ like this ----.
The reason is because of how I think about inappropriate behaviors.

Saying “wrong” or “naughty” implies guilt, implies knowledge that the behavior was wrong. I generally believe that untrained animals don’t understand this concept. You can certainly teach your animal that a particular behavior is not allowed, but that doesn’t mean they will see it as ‘wrong’. What they will think is that you don’t like/allow that behavior. So, with consistency, it will go away. But you can’t teach a cat that killing mice is actually wrong, for them it isn’t wrong it’s natural.


I made a point of using appropriate/inappropriate instead of right/wrong. That’s because most of these behaviors that we don’t like are natural, they can’t be wrong, but we can think of them as inappropriate. Not allowed in this setting.
Kind of like farting in church. Not the best place to do it, but the behavior itself is normal and natural.


So, to sum it all up.

I promise that your pets will never do anything on purpose to make you mad or to get back at you. I do want to stress that just because your cat is not capable of doing spiteful things that this doesn’t mean they can’t love you. I strongly believe they can feel and express love, anger, distrust, confusion, ect. It’s how they use them that is different.

Hopefully this has helped a few people at least. Quite possibly more to come, and congrats again on reading this novel of a post

Last edited by marie73; 02-02-2011 at 01:31 AM. Reason: font size
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post #2 of 5 (permalink) Old 02-02-2011, 03:19 AM
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This should be a sticky topic. Well said!

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post #3 of 5 (permalink) Old 02-02-2011, 05:45 PM
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"Animals are not capable of vindictiveness."

I'm really glad you mentioned this. Its a point that really can't be emphasized enough. I mean it can change a frustrated owner's mindset from "That stupid animal, peeing/scratching/meowing/barking to get back at me! I'll show them" to "Why is he/she upset? What is stressing them? How can I help?".

Also, I had a cat once where just huffing and crossing my arms was enough to get them to stop unwanted behavior. It depends on the personality and temperment of your cat.

Anyway, good job. And I second the sticky.
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post #4 of 5 (permalink) Old 02-02-2011, 05:46 PM
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VERY VERY well said. Thank you. I see a lot of "my naughty, spiteful, et cetera (etc) cat" postings on this forum and it makes me see red because cats are just not like that.


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Last edited by marie73; 08-04-2012 at 05:19 AM.
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post #5 of 5 (permalink) Old 02-02-2011, 06:15 PM Thread Starter
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I hear it all the time. From friends, co-workers, customers, ect. Drives me absolutely up the wall.

With one breath they talk about how their 'dumb' animal runs into wall when they yell/gesture/call it bad names, then they tell me all about how smart said animal is in 'getting back at them'....argh.

HUGE pet peeve there.
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