Training Your Cat to Scratch Appropriately

We love our cats, but not what they sometimes do to our furniture! If your cat is doing a number on your new leather couch or oak table leg, there are plenty of options to help limit that behavior.

Contrary to popular belief, most cats can be trained. Owners can reinforce desired behavior in food-motivated pets by applying the treat as the cat completes the wanted behavior. The goal is to elicit the wanted behavior first so that you can reinforce it.

Considering declawing? Read this first.

We know that cats scratch in order to:

  • Stretch and exhibit normal behavior
  • Scent-mark an object
  • Condition their claws
  • Ward away unwanted attention

We supply cats with adequate scratching surfaces so they can exhibit their normal behavior.

There should be at least three angles of scratching surfaces: Straight-Vertical, Flat on the Ground, and 45-Degree Angle.

Each cat will prefer different types of scratching surfaces and angles.

To elicit the wanted behavior (scratching on the posts/pads and not on furniture), bait the surfaces with cat nip to attract your cat. Get a high-valued treat and clicker ready.

cat nipcat training clickercat training treats

After your pet is attracted to the cat nip and starts scratching at the pad, wait until the exact instant that he or she is finished scratching, and then “click” and say “good job!” Give one or two treats, but only one at a time, letting the pet finish the treat before giving the next. Occasionally you should “jackpot” a successful scratching - giving about five treats or something else they really like, again one small piece or treat at a time. Varying the reward helps to improve retention of the behavior.

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Ideally you should have treats and clicker on your person. Anytime you see appropriate scratching, or hear it from another room, you should immediately “click” and give treats as soon as the pet is done scratching. Create opportunities to reward and reinforce the behavior by baiting with catnip every couple of days.

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You can use double-sided tape, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or bitter apple spray on the surfaces you want to protect to deter the pet. Loud noises or other punishments when the pet scratches inappropriately will deter the pet when you are present. It will not stop the cat when you are out of the house, and should not be a primary method of deterrence.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Before using a new clicker, you should “load” the clicker. This process is described on the packaging of the clicker itself, the goal is to associate the noise with the reward. Start by getting your pet’s attention and then “click” and say “good job” in a positive voice. Give the treat, leaving one second of time between each step. Repeat five times in a row for each session. Repeat this process about three sessions daily for about three days until you notice your pet expecting the treat when they hear the sound.

If your cat is exhibiting inappropriate scratching or other undesireable behavior problems, we can help! Requst an appointment online, or call your hospital directly. 

This article was written by Dr. Michael Messina from Rau Animal Hospital

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