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Cats behaving badly: facts, stats and tips for training your cat

Cats might have a reputation for being difficult, but they’re easier to train than you think. Here are some tips and tricks for helping your feline friends stay off the naughty step… 

"Cats are independent, and often aren’t as naturally inclined to work for praise and attention as dogs are," says Sydney vet Dr James Crowley. The cat's original raison d’être? "They were bred in the past to hunt and kill rodents."

As a result, cats have a reputation for being aloof creatures who march to the beat of their drum, not yours. As some clever soul once quipped, "Dogs have owners, but cats have staff."

Understanding cat psychology might seem like hard work, but it is possible to better understand cat behaviour.

Some of these cats may need psychological support and treatment for them to learn how to live harmoniously with us

Dr O’Shea

Three key cat behaviour areas to tackle

Litter tray avoidance
"First, rule out any illness that may be contributing to the problem," says Dr Crowley. "Your cat might be suffering from a urinary tract infection or urinary stones." If nothing medical is wrong, it could be that changes in the home, such as other pets, new people or the location of the litter tray, are contributing to the problem. Or, it may be that your cat simply doesn’t like the litter you are using.

Scratching furniture
Scratching is natural cat behaviour, but scratching your furniture is probably not in your top five list of adorable cat quirks. "All cats need to be able to express natural behaviours like scratching, so as owners we must provide the cat with all of its environmental needs," says Dr Andrew O’Shea from the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA). Invest money in a scratching post and invest the time to train your kitten to use it (see below for how to train your cat).

Cat hissing
A cat hisses to communicate that it’s scared. Cats who hiss regularly need understanding and care to learn they don’t need to be afraid. "Some of these cats may need psychological support and treatment for them to learn how to live harmoniously with us," says Dr O’Shea.


How to train your cat

If you’re up for the challenge, it is possible to train a cat. "I have taught my cat to meow on command," says Dr Crowley. "And he has taught himself to urinate in our toilet. Not sure how that happened!"

It’s easier to train a kitten. "Starting early and using consistent, humane and kind techniques is the best way to teach a cat desirable behaviour," says Dr O’Shea.

“Cats aren’t as motivated as dogs, so training your cat takes time and patience,” warns Dr Crowley. He suggests using food rewards such as diced chicken, tuna pieces, or kangaroo mince to reinforce good cat behaviour.

Another effective cat training technique is to desensitise your cat to sounds and stimuli. "For example, feeding your cat dinner while playing the sound of the vacuum cleaner can help desensitise your cat to this potentially fearful stimuli," says Dr Crowley.

There are also apps that aid cat training. Some of the most popular available on the iTunes store include Cat Clicker Training ($1.29), Cats & Kittens: Training, Food and Proper Caring for Your Kitty Cat (free) and Owning a Cat ($2.49). Or, if you prefer to consult a book, Dr O’Shea recommends Training Your Cat: A New Approach To Caring For Your Cat and Protecting Wildlife by Kersti Seksel ($24.95,