Training Your Cat? How to Keep Him Motivated

Say No to Punishment

To keep your cat motivated, focus on rewarding desired behavior rather than punishing unwanted actions. Punishment is largely counterproductive and creates unnecessary stress for your cat without resolving the behavior issue. Spraying your cat with water when he scratches the couch doesn’t teach him to stop scratching; it teaches him that you are unpredictable and potentially threatening, and it doesn’t change the behavior. Your cat is still likely to scratch, but he will do so in a hidden location or when you aren’t around to see him. Punishment can also intensify other problems, like aggression or eliminating outside of the litterbox. Positive reinforcement is always a better option when you’re working to change a pet’s behavior.

Make sure you're not accidentally creating negative associations for your cat. Cats learn through experience what behaviors are — and aren’t — worth their effort. If your cat learns that hearing his name called results in a treat, he will learn to come when called. But if you call your cat and then give him a pill, he becomes less likely to respond to your call in the future. It’s important to make things like crating, pilling, nail trims and grooming — which your cat may see as negatives — as stress-free as possible. To do this, avoid asking for desired behaviors just before a situation the cat may deem as negative. So instead of calling your cat to you when it’s time to get in his crate, bring the crate to him. At the very least, offer an extremely high-value reward for the desired behavior. If your cat learns that taking her medicine earns her a delicious treat, the chances that she will do so willingly are increased over time.

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