Train a Kitten
Cats are not small dogs, and as a result training a cat isn't exactly the same as training a dog. Generally speaking, the process of training a cat is more challenging for people accustomed to training dogs or other animals because kittens are much more independent and less interested in the opinions of humans than other house pets. However, with the proper techniques and lots of patience, you can train your kitten to be a happy, healthy, and mostly obedient companion.
- 1 Steps
- 2 Tips
- 3 Warnings
- 4 Things You'll Need
- 5 Related Articles
- 6 Sources and Citations
Socializing Your Kitten
- Let the kitten's mother socialize it for at least eight weeks. Generally, a kitten needs at least two months of socialization with its mother before they can be separated. During this time, the mother should do most of the "training" we associate with having a good, well-behaved house cat.
- Kittens start weaning at around a month and will be fully weaned and should be eating solid food by eight weeks.
- If your cat has had a litter of kittens and you're weaning them yourself, it's absolutely essential that you let it take at least two months before you separate them completely. The mother should train the kitten to know its strength, eat properly, and use the litter box.
- Avoid buying kittens who have been weaned too early. If you're buying a kitten from the store, make sure you discover exactly how old it is. Kittens who are weaned too early tend to be more aggressive and will require more training than properly weaned kittens.
- Continue to socialize your kitten. The best pets are those which are properly socialized at a young age. A well socialized kitten should be handled from 2 weeks of age, by a variety of people - young and old, and of different genders and physical appearances. This handling should take place every day, ideally for 5 - 10 minutes at least twice a day - the more often the better.
- If your kitten is not socialized and used to people, you will face an uphill struggle to train the kitten. This is because the kitten will be wary of people and not not trust them. Thus your first task is to win the kitten's confidence.
- If the kitten is already older than 8 weeks and not used to people, they are likely to behave like a feral or "wild" kitten. Unfortunately, once this behavior is established it is difficult to break and the likelihood is the kitten will grow into an anti social cat.
- Be patient when socializing your kitten. You cannot force a kitten or cat to do anything, and so your weapons are patience and providing positive rewards when the kitten is around so they begin to link you to nice experiences.
- Examples of this include lying on the floor when you watch TV, and keeping a treat or two in your hand or pocket. By lying down you pose less of a threat and so a curious kitten may advance toward you. By dropping a treat on the floor this rewards the kitten's boldness and may help them to link people to tasty snacks, and make them more willing to approach in future.
- Use positive reinforcement. Rubbing a cat's face in messes that it makes, or yelling loudly, is a terrible way to train kittens. Positive reinforcement is accomplished by rewarding behavior that you want the cat to repeat, so that the cat will eventually abandon the old behaviors that you want the cat to avoid. This is the easiest way to change a cat's behavior.
- If a cat does something you don't like, ignore the cat. Usually, whining at the door or clawing at something is a way of getting your attention. If it doesn't work, the cat will soon abandon the behavior entirely.
- A reward might be a tasty treat. Most cats have one "must have" treat. If your kitten doesn't seem food motivated, then try them with a variety of foods to see which one excites them.
- Avoid punishing the kitten. Punishing the kitten may make a superficial improvement but the cat will merely become more devious. Take the scenario where the cat urinates in the middle of the lounge room carpet. If you punish or frighten the kitten, they will link the punishment to you rather than urinating on the carpet. Thus, the kitten will become careful not to urinate in front of you in the future.
- This can also backfire because the kitten is more likely to seek hidey-holes to urinate, or alternatively, become hesitant to use the litter tray when you are about because they are wary of you.
- Make the sounds the mother cat makes when you disapprove of a kitten's behavior. When mother cats chastise kittens, they make a kind of clicking sound at the back of the throat that is possible to mimic. It's much more effective and in-line with the training of kitten to attempt to do basically what the kitten is used to.
- All you've got to do is click your tongue against the roof of your mouth when the kitten is clawing something or doing something that's against the rules of the house.
- Use catnip to help with training. Training a cat with catnip can be extremely effective and rewarding your kitten with treats will work better than yelling. This can be a great way of attracting cats toward scratching posts, toys you want them to play with, or getting them to sleep in particular areas that you want them to sleep in. A bit of catnip placed in a bag can keep a cat entertained for hours.
- Not all cats are attracted to catnip, making your job somewhat more difficult. If your cat doesn't seem interested, you can try using something the cat does like, like a little treat of food, to attract it toward something.
- Provide lots of cat spaces. If your kitten keeps climbing up on the kitchen counter to observe the scene or getting into areas it shouldn't, scaring the cat off won't' work. This only teaches cats that they should fear you. Instead, put a platform or a bench in an adjacent area, or put some catnip or some treats on it, so the cat can jump up and watch the entire area from above.
- Make it clear that this is the cat's zone. If the cat jumps on the counter again, move them to the bench.
- Play with the kitten regularly. To keep kittens from acting out, integrate exercise into the cat's feeding routine. Before every meal, set off their hunting instincts by playing with some string, ribbon, a laser pointer, or some other toy the cat enjoys. This is an essential part of cats' daily routine. Without it they can get moody or over excited.
- Get out a toy and have the cat jumping up in the air running around, then let the cat catch it then proceed to dinner. Typically, cats will then groom and sleep after meals. Play for at least 20 minutes a day, or until kitty stops.
Training Kittens to Eat
- Figure out if you can simply leave food out for your kitten at all times. There are two basic philosophies when it comes to feeding cats, and it will largely depend on how your cat eats. Generally, you can take a constant feeding or a timed feeding approach for most cats, but not both. Some cats are fine with a full bowl of food left out at all times, from which they will eat until they're not hungry anymore. This is probably the easiest for you, as long as your cat can control their intake properly.
- When food is available all the time, this is known as ad lib feeding. This mimics how a cat eats in the wild, which is to take frequent small snacks. A cat that is not bored and has plenty to entertain them and provide mental stimulation, is usually fine at controlling their calorie intake and can be trusted with ad lib feeding.
- Feed the kitten at regular times if it tends to overeat. The problems tend to arise if the cat is bored, or under stimulated, in which case eating can become a hobby and the cat loses control of their calorie intake.
- Often, these are the cats who will whine for food when it isn't present, as well, making it important that you start feeding on a regular schedule. Kittens should usually be fed four times a day until they are 12 weeks old, and then 3 times a day until they are 6 months old. After this an adult cat can be fed twice daily, in the morning and at night. Do it at the same time each day.
- Feed the kitten the proper food. Kittens will often double or triple their weight in the first few weeks of growth, meaning that kittens will usually need to eat a diet higher in calories and fat than adult cats will. Commercial food is generally separated by the age of the cat who'll be eating it, and it's usually the best idea to feed a kitten kitten food.
- Don't feed a kitten food for adult or geriatric cats, and don't feed an adult or geriatric cat kitten food. The calories in these types of food are drastically different and can lead to either malnutrition, in the case of the kitten eating adult food, or excess weight, in the case of the adult cat eating kitten food.
- Provide clean water for the cat at all times. Cats will start whining if they don't have something that they need, and this whining can turn into a long-term habit that can be quite annoying. If you don't want to have to re-train a kitten, make sure you do it right in the first place. If a cat knows that it's water bowl will be refilled before it gets empty, it'll never occur to the kitten to start whining for you to refill it. Stay on top of all your cat chores.
- Do not feed the cat from the table. Aside from the fact that kittens shouldn't eat many common human foods, like garlic, onions, chocolate, grapes, and raisins, which are toxic to cats, feeding a cat from the table will have your kitten clambering around every time you're trying to eat food. Only feed your kitten cat food, and feed it at appropriate times.
- Never give a cat milk. Despite the common misconception that cats should be fed saucers of milk, dairy is undigestible to cats, and will result in an extremely disgusting litter box for you to clean up the next day.
- Cats should only eat tuna as an occasional treat say once or twice a week. While many cats love this canned fish, it doesn't contain the nutritional elements that cats need for all-around health, and it's increasingly common that some cats can become overly addicted to eating tuna, at the expense of other more nutritious foods. It'd be like a human eating nothing but potato chips.
Training Your Kitten to Use the Litter Box
- Get a simple litter box. The simplest litter boxes are usually the most friendly to the cat. A simple tray full of fresh, clean litter is the most inviting environment for the cat to do its business. If you've got a complicated automated litter box, it can be frightening or intimidating to use.
- Likewise, litter boxes with lids on top can help to keep the mess contained, but it can also make it more difficult for the cat to access the litter box. If you're struggling to get your cat in the box, try using a simpler, uncovered litter box.
- If you don't want to scoop cat poop, don't get a cat. There are all kinds of complicated contraptions and products designed to make it less messy, but the fact of the matter is that cleaning up after a cat is something you're going to have to do to keep the cat happy.
- Place the kitten in the litter box. If you want your cat to use the litter box, usually all you'll have to do is place them in it. Cats want to do their business in litter boxes, so it shouldn't be any more difficult than literally placing them inside of it once to show them where it is.
- Some trainers recommend sitting with your cat and physically forcing them to paw the litter a few times, to get used to the feeling and to familiarize themselves with the environment. The idea is to trigger the instinctive reaction of a cat to scrape and cover up their feces after using the tray.
- If the kitten becomes distressed by you holding their paws to make the scraping motion, then just abandon the idea.
- Place the litter tray in a quiet place, ideally in the corner of a room. This is a good location because the kitten feels vulnerable when going to the bathroom. By having a wall on either side, the cat only has to watch for predators approaching from the front.
- Also, avoid putting the litter tray next to a washing machine or any device that makes a sudden noise or movement. If the machine goes into spin cycle while the kitten is on the tray, and the kitten gets a fright, it will discourage him or her from using the tray in the future.
- Clean the litter box regularly. Cats, even kittens, want to use the litter box and it shouldn't be difficult to get them to go inside it. The primary reason that cats begin to urinate or defecate outside of their litter box is that they find the litter box environment unusable. This is either because the litter box is too difficult to get to, you've changed litter too regularly, or the litter box is too messy.
- Litter boxes need to be cleaned every single day. Use a scoop to remove the feces and the urine clumps, and change the litter regularly to keep it fresh. If the litter box smells bad to you, it smells terrible to your cat. Keep that in mind.
- Use one kind of litter on a regular basis. Changing the type of cat litter you use can be confusing for the cat. Ideally, you need to use unscented and natural pine-based cat litters to provide the best environment.
- Avoid using scented cat litter. These may smell nice to us but the scent is overpowering to a kitten, who has a much more sensitive nose. This may deter them from using the box.
- Use enough fresh litter in the litter box so that the cat has enough room to paw around. Cats don't want to paw around in their own urine any more than you would want to.
- Avoid putting anything but litter in the litter box. Don't try to entice cats to use the litter box by putting toys, treats, or food into the litter. Cats don't want to eat where they defecate, and putting food in the litter box will make it much more confusing for your cat to know where to do their business.
Training Your Kitten With a Clicker
- Introduce clicker training when your cat is a kitten. That is an ideal time to introduce clicker training. A clicker makes a click-clack noise that you use to mark the exact moment of the behavior you wish the cat to repeat. This is a great way of teaching a cat to do tricks, or even useful things like coming to you when called.
- Associate the clicker with a treat. Start by simply clicking and then giving your kitten a treat. When you make the click-clack noise and then give the kitten a treat, they will make a link between click-clack and a reward. Once the kitten is starting to come towards you in anticipation of the treat, press the clicker, and then give the reward. Keep repeating this until you are positive they have learned to associate the clicker with the reward.
- A food reward is ideal, but some cats are not hugely motivated by food. However, every cat has at least one food they go mad for, if you can just find out what that food is.
- Experiment with different foods including ham, tuna, chicken, fish, steak, and prawns. You'll know when you've found their favorite because it will disappear in seconds and the kitten will meow looking for more.
- Train at a time when the kitten's tummy is not full, since a full stomach will take the shine off a food reward. To start with, offer the treat to the kitten, and when they take it, at that precise moment press the clicker. Do this 3 or 4 times, then leave it at that until the next session. Repeat.
- Mark the behavior you want with the click-clack of the clicker. Once the kitten associates a clicker noise with a treat, you can adjust your clicking, which acts as a down payment on a reward, to only happen when the kitten does something good.
- Connect the good-behavior clicking with a treat once the behavior is completed. You can even team that behavior with a word such as "Sit", to complete the training.
Training Your Kitten to Come on Command
- Commit to training your kitten to come when called, even though it may take some time and effort. It can be a great thing to teach a kitten is to come when called. This is immensely useful, and can help you find your kitten if they get lost.
- Many times, a kitten that gets lost is very frightened, and instinctively the kitten goes to ground and hides as a protective mechanism. However, if they are trained to come on command, this training may overcome their nature inclination to stay put in a frightening situation.
- Use short but often training sessions. When training a kitten you need to commit to the concept of little but often training. Cats have shorter concentration spans than dogs and most likely their attention starts to wander after 5 minutes or so. A great schedule would be three, 5 minute sessions a day, or alternatively, frequent short ad hoc sessions when the kitten was around and in playful mood.
- Pick a cue word to use to call the kitten. As the kitten comes towards you, you will give the word cue you have decided to use to summon the cat. Choose a word the cat won't hear in any other context, so an unusual or even a made up word is ideal.
- It is best NOT to use the kitten's name as this will be used in other circumstances. This will confuse the cat because if they aren't expected to come when you say, "Kitty's a pretty girl", it dilutes the cue word.
- Use clicker training to train the kitten to come on command. Call the cue word and the moment the kitten turns towards you, click, to mark the moment of the desired action. Then immediately give the kitten a treat. If you repeat this regularly, over many training sessions, the cat will learn to come to that word.
- You can use this principle to train a cat to do any number of desired behaviors such as jumping down off a work surface, to shaking paws.
Training Your Kitten About Appropriate Scratching
- Provide a space for the kitten to scratch. If you're worried about your kitten scratching up your clothes or furniture, you need to provide other places for the cat to scratch. Generally, catnip-spiked scratching posts or cardboard liners with catnip underneath make the best scratching spaces for cats.
- Cats need to use their claws to keep them trimmed and healthy, meaning that they're going to need to scratch something. There's little point in punishing a cat for scratching, because they're not doing it maliciously. Cats scratch because they must.
- Reward the cat when they use the scratching post. If you see the cat sharpening their claws on the post, give the cat a treat so they'll return to it.
- Keep a spray bottle hand. A good way to keep cats from scratching things you don't want scratched up is to keep a water spray bottle on hand and gently spray the cat any time they scratch the object. This will have the effect of getting them away from the area immediately. After you spray the cat, hide the spray bottle. If the cat knows it was you, the cat may get fearful of you.
- Use mint oil on areas you don't want the cat to scratch. Applying a small amount of essential oil, typically mint, on the area that you want the cats to avoid deters them from scratching there. This is an excellent way of keeping young kittens off any types of surfaces you'd prefer they not invade.
- The scent is a natural cat repeller. They simply don't like the smell. It's essentially harmless to the cat, just an unpleasant odor.
- Be sure to be careful applying essential oils onto surfaces that might be damaged by it. Apply on a test spot that is hidden before applying the oil to a visible surface.
- Entertain your young kitten by waving a piece of yarn or string in front of them. They'll love you for it.
- Try to watch your kitten carefully, assessing their bad and good habits. Think of ways you can adjust the bad habits and reinforce the good habits.
- If you're gentle with your kitten, they will be more gentle and kind to you.
- Play with your kitten regularly and call it by its name so that it learns that is its name.
- Don't lock or keep your kitten in a small cage. It will likely get fussy and possibly bite.
- Please be patient! Kittens can be a slow learners but training them is worth your time.
Things You'll Need
- Litter Tray
- Kitty Litter
- Scratching post
- Kitty food
- Litter Train a Kitten
- Teach Your Kitten to Be Calm and Relaxed
- Train a Cat to Stop Doing Almost Anything
- House Train a Puppy
- Befriend a Wild Cat or Kitten
Sources and Citations
- Feline behavior: A guide for veterinarians. Bonnie Beaver. Publisher: Saunders
- Cat Behaviour Explained. Philip Neville. Publisher: Parragon press.
- Cat Behaviour Explained. Philip Neville. Publisher: Parragon press.
- Clicker training for Cats. Karen Pryor. Publisher: Ringpress books