Should I Punish My Cat for Being Aggressive?

Cats can sometimes exhibit occasionally damaging actions. Perhaps you've experienced a scratch or two. These negative behavior in cats are typically malleable and can be altered through behavior modification techniques. Today's blog discusses the dos and don'ts for disciplining bad behaviors in cats.
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Cats can sometimes exhibit occasionally damaging actions. Perhaps you've experienced a scratch or two. Or maybe your beloved feline has once again left their wonderful gift outside the litter box. Whatever the cause, don't despair. These negative behavior in cats are typically malleable and can be altered through behavior modification techniques, a form of training. Today's blog discusses the dos and don'ts for disciplining bad behaviors in cats.

How to Discipline a Cat

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First, keep these things in mind:

  1. Your cat is not a child. Lectures and other forms of showing disapproval will not be effective.
  2. Your cat is not a dog. Cats do not perceive themselves as belonging to your pack or any pack at all since they are pretty much solitary creatures.
  3. Your cat is a cat! Their actions directly result from instinct, surroundings, and interactions between the two.

The first thing cat parents should internalize is to view the following steps as behavior modification, not as a punishment. The aim is to help the cat associate undesirable behavior with bad consequences while still being free to display normal cat behaviors.

Do's and Don'ts for Disciplining a Cat

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Our feline friends often receive a negative reputation as spiteful, untrainable, or indifferent, but these assumptions are inaccurate and unfair. Correcting a cat's harmful or destructive behavior through discipline is possible. Effectively training a cat might require some experimentation. Just as all people are unique, so are all animals. While one cat may positively respond to a particular style of correcting undesirable behavior, others may resist your efforts, potentially worsening their behaviors. Additionally, there are certain methods that you should avoid when training a cat.

It can be challenging to figure out how to discipline your feline friend if you have no experience with it or if your previous cats didn't require much discipline. Start on the right path and know the reason behind the dos and don'ts of disciplining a cat in your home. Once your kitten or older cat learns what behavior is acceptable, there will be less need to address undesirable behavior. After all, cats are highly intelligent.

The Don'ts of Disciplining Your Cat

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Don't compare your cat to your dog:

Cats and dogs should not be compared. If you have experience training a dog, you might assume that training a cat is similar, but that is not the case. Cats and dogs are very different animals and do not learn in the same manner. While a dog might follow your commands during training, a cat may not respond to requests to sit and stay. Understanding the need for a different approach with your cat is crucial for success for both of you.

Don't physically discipline your cat:

Training a pet can be challenging when you're both new to it, but it's essential to never inflict harm on a cat when disciplining it. Our animal friends do not respond well to human punishment; physically dominating a cat will only damage your relationship with them. Avoid holding down, shaking, or hitting your cat. Physical harm to our animal friends can exacerbate the situation and lead to aggression or withdrawal. Additionally, cats struggle to connect physical punishment with bad behavior, so it's counterproductive. Refrain from raising your voice to make a point. You and your cat don't speak the same language, so yelling won't make you any more understandable to your cat. While your cat may recognize that the change in volume means something is different, yelling might frighten your cat or draw unnecessary attention to negative behaviors, leading to further misbehavior.

Don't rub your cat's nose after an accident:

If you try to discipline your cat by rubbing their nose after they made an accident, you will only upset them. You can't expect the cat to suddenly promise not to do it again. This action could draw more attention to the accident and might even make your cat think it's acceptable to do bathroom activities anywhere. The best approach is to thoroughly clean the area and continue working on litter box training.

Don't tolerate inappropriate play:

You might believe your cute kitten doesn't know any better when she playfully scratches or bites your fingers. But chances are, you wouldn't want an older cat to exhibit this behavior in your home. As the owner, it's important to establish clear behavioral expectations early on. If your cat begins scratching or biting during playtime, even innocently, stop the play immediately so your kitten learns what is and isn't acceptable. This is especially important when children are involved. If you allow your cat to nip at your finger during play, she might think it's acceptable to do the same with children. This could lead to children developing a fear of your cat, an unwanted outcome.

Don't use a spray bottle:

There's an old myth about using a spray bottle to deter a cat's bad behavior, but the reality is that cats probably can't connect getting sprayed with undesirable behavior. She is more likely to stop the behavior by running away from the spray rather than understanding that the discipline is related to her actions. This approach could also make your cat cautious at the very sight of a spray bottle, which you don't want.

Do not scruff your cat:

Scruffing adult cats is not a recommended way to restrain or transport them. It is painful for the cat, and causing pain to a misbehaving cat can worsen the issue. Some cats that appear relaxed when scruffed may be experiencing fear paralysis. Instead of grabbing a cat by the scruff, you can use a blanket to wrap around it and lift it. This method ensures the safety of both you and the cat while reducing the stress during transport.

The Do's of Disciplining a Cat

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Do reinforce good behaviors:

Cats have more intelligence than many people realize and possess impressive memory capabilities. According to experts, cats possess both long-term and short-term memory, making them trainable. This also means that they understand what they can repeatedly get away with. It's important to understand that this behavior is not driven by spite but results from their ingrained behavioral traits.

Similar to humans, pets respond positively to reinforcement, so cats remember when they receive something they enjoy. Most cats love attention, food, a variety of toys, or a combination. It's crucial to select a motivator that can be used to encourage the desired behavior in your cat and provide positive reinforcement. Ideally, reward your cat with this special item exclusively during training for the specific behavior. Keeping the desirable item exclusive to training increases its value as a reward, making it more appealing to your cat. Ensure that you reward your cat immediately after she exhibits positive behavior so she can link her actions with positive reinforcement.

Do stop immediately during "bad" behaviors:

Training your cat doesn't always need to be active. Withholding your attention from your cat can be one of the most effective ways to communicate and discourage negative behaviors like biting, chewing, and pouncing. Rough play is a common type of aggression in cats, and you can try surprising it with a loud "ouch" or another word to end its behavior. This method works well for cats that display aggressive behavior towards people and tend to bite or grab onto you. After that, promptly remove yourself from the situation by entering a room and shutting the door. It's best not to respond forcefully to an aggressive cat, as this will only escalate the aggression and make the cat more wary of you. Avoid attempting to pick up a cat showing defensive aggression, as this usually worsens the aggressive behavior. The safest and most effective approach is to remove yourself for a few minutes. Then, if your cat has calmed down by the time you return, reward it. Aggressive cats are usually scared or stressed about something, so it's important to identify what's causing the aggression towards people or other animals. Redirecting their focus to something else is another excellent method to reinforce positive and deter negative behaviors. For example, if your cat starts scratching the couch, redirect it to a scratching post or their own cat trees.

Do consider your cat's health:

Is your feline doing bathroom activities such as urine spraying outside the litter box? While young cats may need time to learn where to relieve themselves, older cats should be aware of the proper spot. If your cat starts urinating or defecating in other areas of your home for no reason, schedule an appointment with the vet. This behavior change could indicate a health issue and that your cat may need medical attention. Your vet can assess if your cat's health is in good condition. You wouldn't want to reprimand your cat for something beyond her control. Collaborate with your vet to identify the root cause of accidents in the home. They can present you with options to improve your cat's health if it's health-related. If it's behavioral, they can offer additional tips for correcting the behavior based on their past interactions with your cat.

Do make changes to the environment:

If you want to stop your cat from clawing your leather couch or jumping on your tables, there are environmental adjustments you can make to deter them. For instance, placing a cookie sheet on the table's edge will produce a loud noise when your cat jumps on it. Covering your leather couch with a soft, silky blanket will cause your cat to slide down if she attempts to climb on it. Always ensure that the changes you make are safe for your cat, but there are many cat-friendly methods to help you modify your cat's behavior. The key to disciplining a cat is to spend time, interact, and reward good behaviors. Even though your cat may be independent, they still desire a loving bond with you. It may take some trial and error to effectively discipline a cat, so patience will go a long way.

More Solutions to Aggression In Cats

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Inappropriate Behavior: When your cat attacks your feet or legs as you walk by.

Possible Solution: You can increase their playtime. Consider purchasing or making a swinging toy they can play with for 10 to 15 minutes each day.

Behavior Issue: If your cat displays territorial aggression toward a new person in your life.

Possible Solution: You can request an unwashed piece of clothing (shirt, scarf, hat, etc.) from the person. Then, place it in the room for the cat to investigate, and even wear it while holding it so they can become accustomed to the new person's scent.

Solutions to Inappropriate Play or Chewing

If your cat starts to exhibit feline aggression, like biting or scratching during play, immediately cease interaction. This communicates that sudden aggression is not welcome. You can also redirect their behavior at that moment. For example, if they enjoy scratching your furniture, offer them a toy or object suitable for scratching.

Unwanted Behavior: When your cat chews on items they shouldn't, such as electrical cords or furniture.

Possible Solutions: Either purchase or create a solution with smells and/or tastes your cat finds undesirable (for example, hot pepper sauce or vinegar, as well as citrus scents such as orange or lemon) and then apply it to the problem areas. It's important to note that many plants and chemicals are toxic to cats, and as their sense of smell is more sensitive than ours, a little bit of these scents goes a long way. Another option is to use a whistle or another loud noisemaker to startle your cat if they start chewing.

Behavioral Issue: When your cat claws or scratches items they shouldn't, such as curtains or furniture.

Possible Solution: Scratching posts covered in cardboard boxes or sisal (as opposed to something that resembles carpet or upholstery) are great redirections for this behavior. Rub some catnip on the scratching post and encourage them to scratch it by dangling a swinging toy next to it or demonstrating on the scratching post yourself.

Do you want to know more about the body languages that cats use? Click here to know more.
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