How to train your cat to not scratch furniture and other objects

How to train your cat to not scratch furniture and other objects

by Elen

As a general rule, even among cat lovers ,-people tend to think that cats cannot be trained. I whole heartedly disagree with this assumption. Training a cat is simply totally different from training a dog, a subject i claim to know nothing about since i do not speak dog language.

I do however speak cat language, and in order for me to be able to explain how you can train your cat to stop scratching furniture and objects that you obviously do not want full of claw marks and destroyed, i will have to start by explaining a little bit more in depth about cat psychology, and how to talk cat language, how and what a cat understands.

When you get a kitten, it is obviously going through some sort of "trauma" being removed from it's mother, it's security and comfort and loving care and teaching that it's mother has provided. Yes, cat mothers teach their babies things, just as a human mother will teach a human baby things. Cat mothers will carry their babies to a place where they will learn to do their poops and their pees, it will teach them to stay out of danger and carry them back to the nest when they wonder off too far. It will teach them to wash themselves and how to catch prey.

I realise that this is all within the limitations of where the kittens are born, a city cat in an apartment will obviously not have an opportunity to take it's kittens out on a field to catch mice and rats as a country cat will, still the same principle remains. Being taken away from it's mother, a kitten is mostly just regarded as cute fluffy thing doing funny things, and especially for people that have no previous experience of having a cat, certain type of cat behavior will suddenly come as an unpleasant surprise!

Scratching furniture and walls and other objects is one of the biggest and most unpleasant surprise to most, and can totally end up with people suddenly hating that cute fluffy thing that was just supposed to be cute.

Now, first thing to remember when taking a kitten is that now YOU become it's mother! It does not matter if you are a man or a woman, you become the mother to the kitten and from the word -go- it will be your responsibility what your cat learns and what it doesn't. You need to behave like it's cat mother with a few additions.

First of all, cats are very stubborn creatures, and unless you show and remind them from the start that you are the boss, the same rule applies as the saying goes about old dogs not learning new tricks. Old cats will not learn to not scratch unless you have taken that illusion away from the cat that it can, from the very start.

So first things first, every time your kitten does something that you do NOT want it to do (jump on to kitchen worktops, scratch furniture, chew cables a.s.o) you need to act like it's cat mother would, grab it by the neck and lift it away. Put your whole palm of the hand on the kittens neck and grab it by all that loose skin, (without digging your nails in its skin) and FEEL that you are holding it so that it's purely skin in your hand, no muscle structure, and then just LIFT it, bring it to your face and BREATHE a breath onto it's face, quite close.

All animals function to a very large extent with smells, and smells tells them who is in authority and who owns the territory. And that has got to be YOU from the start.

This way you have now shown double authority to the cat, by grabbing it's by it's neck as it's mother, plus imposing your smell as a way of telling -this is MY territory, you are not allowed! Then firmly go and put the kitten in a place where you give it the space of having ITS own territory. You WILL have to repeat this action maybe tens or even a hundred times, so you DO have to be patient, a cat WILL always try again, just as a kid will, plus they are curious and will always want to see what you do, so patience is the only key there is.

Now, when the kitten starts clawing on your beautiful couch and you hear those nails digging in to the fabric and feel a cringe along your spine, same rule applies, patience! First, grab the kittens paw or both paws so that you press with your thumb from the top of its paw, and a finger or two on it's "big toe" so that the kittens claws are left out. A cat cannot pull its claws back in when being pressed like this, and make sure you hold on for a while so that the cat starts pulling back its paw from you, and don't let go immediately. This does NOT hurt the cat, but remember that the claws are the cats weapons and the cat knows this intuitively. It does not like the feeling of not being in control of its weapons, and not being able to pull them back in. Most cats will miauw in protest when you do this and desperately try and pull their paw back. When you let go, grab the kitten by the neck, breathe in it's nose, and again, lift it to its own zone/territory where he/she is allowed to do as she pleases.

I have had some cats with whom this method has been ineffective, very few, but some yes. As all, cats are individuals too and therefore you have to occasionally find another method that will work. Another way i have found effective in teaching most of my cats what they are not allowed to do is simply by holding on to their tail at the very root. NOT yank it, not PULL it..just hold on to it and for 5-10 seconds do not let the kitten/cat move away from what it was doing. Again, the tail is very important to the cat, so for a little while you are taking control of it's sense of balance and navigation and so showing it your authority over that specific area. Remember ALWAYS to end every disciplinary action with grabbing it by the neck and moving it away.

Finally, always talk with your cat in a pitchier tone then you otherwise speak, so that the cat learns when you are speaking to him/her. In contrast to this pitchier tone that it learns to associate as the language between the two of you, teach it ONE word that you will use in a stern way when you are disciplining it. Always use that one word in the same pitch. For example, as you are holding it's paw to stop it from scratching, repeat NO in the stern voice.

All the best to your cat and you! Do NOT declaw your cat! It is cruel, against nature (if God would have wanted cats to be without claws he would have created them that way) and it is NOT needed! I KNOW, because i have had so many cats, and managed to teach every one of them in one way or another to not scratch my furniture and walls with these methods. When people come to visit me, i ALWAYS get comments on that there is not a scratch on my furniture? How do you DO that with three cats, they ask? Well, this is how!!


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How to train your cat to not scratch furniture and other objects

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Feb 17, 2011 Anonymous
by: Angel O

Don't be absurd and try to excuse the person who calls cats IT and recommends GRABBING parts of them to teach them right from wrong.
You saw for yourself that person is more concerned about impressing visitors with her perfect furniture and walls than her cats peace of mind.
Of course we know how a mother cat handles her kittens,she has no choice but to use that way, where-as we humans do have a choice.
We don't have to show them who is the boss by holding them helpless.
We don't have to assert our authority because we can co-exist with respect for each others species.
Cats are proud and dignified animals and it's about time eveyone realised that and started treating them as they deserve to be.
So take your long lecture elsewhere because those of us who love our cats don't appreciate yours or the writer of this page's misguided methods.

Feb 17, 2011 getting lost in semantics
by: Anonymous

This is in response to everyone criticizing. I do not agree with pulling on tails. I am talking about taking the cat by the scruff of the neck, exactly the same way the mother would to correct it. If you think the way the cat is handled is abuse, then you seriously have never seen a queen with her young, because they do way worse things like kick them in the head when trying to wean. Which is cruel by our standards, but perfectly normal to cat behaviour. So No, I would never kick or abuse my cat, but I think you are all getting lost in semantics and truely don't understand what the writer is talking about. You'd rather envision the worst, hardest treatment of all, like a simpleton, not even considering the social differences between what is acceptable in human and animal worlds or the force that is actually used. It's about respect and understanding with most animals. That's fine if you never correct your pet. And I couldn't care if my cat scratches my sofa (it's pretty trashed, but I understood that this is a wild animal and I can't ask it to bend to my rules.) But I can guide it just like their parent would do. Which is exactly what I do and I have 3 great cats that everyone thinks are the best kitties ever. So think what you want, but it isn't about force, it's about meeting the cat on their level and trying to think like they think. So no I don't agree with pulling their tail ever, but I do agree with handling them the way their parents would (just more gentle because we are larger). PS they aren't talking about cruelly squeezing the kitten paws, they are saying gently hold their nails out a little extra time so it annoys the cat and they learn not to claw EVERYTHING. Which is exactly what you do when you trim cat claws!! (I don't personally trim my cat's claws, but whoever does is doing this same thing) I do not agree with pet abuse at all, I agree with setting boundries and making a safe, unconfusing place for my pets.

Feb 16, 2011 To Anonymous
by: Barbara

You wrote this "a lot of pet owners become emotional when an animal hurts them or furniture by mistake, then they yell at, throw or hit the animal, which is very wrong."

I'm here to tell you that you can't "hurt" furniture, but you most assuredly can hurt cats using the treatment you prescribe.

Barbara avatar

Feb 16, 2011 Don't encourage unkindness
by: Kath

I wish you 'experts' would not encourage other people to torment their cats with 'punishments'
You are NOT the kitten's mother and the kitten knows that.
You are as Ruth said merely powerful giants who get pleasure out of overpowering defenceless baby animals and then brag about it.
Grabbing scruffs and tails and paws is UNKIND.
"As soon as my fingers get on the back of his neck"says it all.
I'd like to hope someone's fingers get on the back of YOUR neck next time you do that to your cat.
Why don't you listen to those who know

Feb 16, 2011 To anonymous
by: Ruth

To quote the writer of this article on 2 points:
'Hold the cats tail at the very root, do not let it move away'
'Grab the kittens paw or both paws so that you press with your thumb from the top of its paw, and a finger or two on it's "big toe" so that the kittens claws are left out. A cat cannot pull its claws back in when being pressed like this, and make sure you hold on for a while so that the cat starts pulling back its paw from you, and don't let go immediately'

If that's not bullying, what is ? To me it's a powerful giant with a tiny creature at its mercy.
Note too the writer says 'GRAB' the kitten by the neck and 'GRAB' the kitten's paw. Since when has GRABBING been 'gentil' as you put it ?
Why are you recommending others bully their kittens this way ?
To quote you on 2 points:
'The key is to use the right amount of pressure and not get emotional'
'As soon as my fingers get on the back of his neck, he automatically stops what he is doing'

So what you are saying is that you still have to
scruff your cat to make him behave ?
I'll be interested to know why you think your method has worked as it obviously hasn't if your poor cat still needs 'correcting' by you !
BTW incase you don't know, you should never ever lift an adult cat by the scruff unless in an emergency.
You must lift a cat by supporting his weight at all times.

As I said, kindness, gentleness and distraction ensure the kitten grows up confident and well behaved.
There is no need for scruffing, holding paws or tails or any other punishment.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Feb 16, 2011 It's not bullying, It's being their "mother"
by: Anonymous

To anyone who considers this practice bullying to a kitten, they are not thinking about the kitten living in the wild with it's mother. All they are suggesting is treating the kitten in the exact same manner as the mother cat would do. By correctly scruffing the neck and giving a short breath into the face, you are replicating exactly how their mother would handle them. Anything else might actually confuse the kitten. The key is to use the right amount of pressure and not get emotional (a lot of pet owners become emotional when an animal hurts them or furniture by mistake, then they yell at, throw or hit the animal, which is very wrong.) The post isn't suggesting you aggressively grab your cat by it's neck and scream in it's face, it's just a gentil scolding like a mother would give to her kitten the keep it safe (like if the kitten wandered too far or went somewhere dangerous). I have a dominant, intact Bengal boy that is about 17 lbs, and the only thing that has ever helped to control him is exactly this technique. As soon as my fingers get on the back of his neck, he automatically stops what he is doing and lets me place him where he needs to go (I don't pick him up by his neck, I place one arm under his body and lift from there). His reaction isn't out of fear, it's out of understanding and respect.

Feb 16, 2011 Possessions are replaceable
by: Ruth

When our cats Walter and Jozef were kittens, they were only a month apart in age but Jozef was tiny.
We had nett curtains then and Walter would run up them and bash the wind chimes we had hanging from the top of the window. Poor Jozef was so jealous but too tiny to launch to the netts so we'd give him a 'leg up' so he could have a go too.
So what if we had to buy new netts when they grew out of that game, we had so much fun and laughter it was worth it.
Life is all about taking pleasure out of simple things, not about living in fear of replacable inanimate possessions.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Feb 15, 2011 lol Kathy W
by: Ruth (Monty's Mom)

Ha,ha,ha! I love the story about the kitten who is the "bathroom terrorist." I can just picture him come running when someone opens the bathroom door and then chasing his tail in the bathtub! Monty ignores toilet paper, but we had a cat when we were kids who would pull it all off the roll and sometimes drag it around the house. It held a fascination for her. It's funny what will get a cat's attention and cause him to have the time of his young life playing with it. I wish I had a Monty story that could top the little bathroom terrorist, but that is just too funny.

Feb 15, 2011 Kittenhood is short
by: Ruth

What upsets me is that some people want to 'put an old head on young shoulders' as my late mother would say and you can't do that.
Kittenhood is like childhood, it goes over all too soon and should be enjoyed while it lasts.
We don't bully our children into behaving like an adult, so why do it to kittens ?
Yes there has to be a limit to what you let them get away with it and then you gently distract them with a toy, that applies to children and kittens too.
We've had many happy hours laughing at our cats antics when they were young, so what if a toilet roll gets shredded, what does it matter ? We had neighbours whose kitten would come in and shred a kitchen roll, it was a funny sight, he was a lovely cat. They emigrated after sending him to live elsewhere near a road, he was run over and killed, his life over ! We are still upset they wouldn't leave him with us.
What I'm saying is cats lives are very short and to live that life in fear of punishment instead of enjoyment, to me is wrong.
Most cats calm down as they reach adulthood anyway, just as most people do.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Feb 14, 2011 To Ruth, Monty's Mom
by: Anna

Love your comments, Ruth:
I can even go further: to me NOTHING MATERIAL can be even half as important as a living being, especially the one you chose to bring to your home to care for.

If someone gets an animal primarily just to match their sofa or carpet, they should really go for a stuffed one, not the real one. It reminds me a recent case with the family in the US sending a child previously adopted from the Russian orphanage alone on the plain back to Moscow.

Did I see someone recently suggested here to give the test to anyone willing to adopt the pet just to verify their humane nature?

That was a good idea!

Feb 14, 2011 my thoughts
by: Kathy W

I agree with Ruth. Bullying a cat has neveer gotten ME anywhere. In fact I have found it can make matters worse. I find its best to accept my cats for who and what they are. Just let them be cats and do their thing. I have also found my one cat is sensitive to name calling. Perhaps she speaks English?? Shes never hardly bad but sometimes she likes to bully the other cats or be the Alpha cat. She steps in whenever necessary to keep the peace. My cats have scrathing posts and a cat tree that is ripped to shreds. We have a kitten right now who has a tendency to misbehave and gets into everything, which is the cats nature. Right now he is a bathroom terrorist. He gets the toilet paper, rips the shower curtain, trys to get in the window (has no window sill, knocks things off the cabinet, loves to roll and chase his tail in the bathtub. So now the door has to be kept closed and hes only in there when someone is in there and believe me he runs when he hears that door open. He does not want to get out of there. You have to physically remove him. The squirt bottle is our only form of training. If one of them is being naughty we say their name and shake the bottle and guess what?? They stop!! Theres no holding down or paw grabbing. Cats dont like being punished. Or grabbed or held down. If you cant handle the nature of the cat you shouldnt have one. Get a dog. Something you can physically train.

Feb 14, 2011 Cats don't understand punishment
by: Ruth

I think maybe Elen doesn't really know cats very well or she would know that punishment is a waste of time, they don't understand it because to them they are doing no wrong.
Good behaviour through punishment is not happy behaviour, it's fearful behaviour.
I would be very upset to think our cats daren't put a paw wrong because of fear of us grabbing them.
Look at the size of us in comparison to a cat.
I certainly wouldn't have liked to be taught good behaviour by some giant towering over me and nor do cats.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Feb 14, 2011 relationship not techniques
by: Ruth (Monty's Mom)

I used to teach school and I must say that the poorest teachers were ones who relied on a "bag of tricks" approach to discipline and the best I've ever known had few discipline problems because they had developed a relationship of trust and respect with their students. Also, praising good behavior and ignoring bad (when possible) is the best way to go. Although Elen's article makes some excellent points, I think it leans toward the "bag of tricks" approach rather than toward having a relationship with your cat.

There are behaviors you can't ignore, such as when I used to have to lock Monty in his room while I ironed clothes or he was going to get hurt. Between every item I ironed I would come into his room and stroke him and apologize. And then, oddly, one day he just stopped showing interest in the iron. I never thought that I was punishing him, my aim was to protect him only. I didn't expect him to ever lose his fascination with the iron. I felt really badly for how he must have felt being locked in his room. If you must intervene you have to have empathy.

With most things the cat might get into I think providing an alternative is best if possible-- like a good scratching post! Elen is right-- you do have to start young or the cat won't know what's expected. It's unfair to change the rules part way into the game. But I'm not sure that holding the cat down to assert your dominance works. The cat may see it as a game and ultimately he's still getting attention from you. My cat recently developed a fascination with standing on my computer keyboard. He's doing it less now that I've been completely ignoring that behavior. Before, when I'd come and put him on the floor, he would purr instantly when I'd come. He was learning he could call me to him by standing by the computer. (It makes a noise if you hit an invalid key.) It doesn't matter if you're holding the cat by the scruff of the neck or blowing on him or holding his tail-- it's attention from you and the he may see it as a game, like the play fighting he'd do with his siblings. He may have lost that round, but he'll want to try again! Cats are persistent little creatures. Discipline "techniques" cause more misbehavior. You just need to spend time with the cat and have him learn to trust you and know that you have empathy for him. Holding him when he doesn't want to be held destroys that trust. Also, people need to understand that with having a cat there may be some inevitable damage to carpet, drapes or furnishings. If they can't deal with that, then they shouldn't get a cat. Cutting off his toe ends is the ultimate breach of trust.

Feb 13, 2011 Fear of you is not good
by: Kath

Intimidating cats isn't the way to go.
Ruling by fear of you is unkind and not necessary.
Elen did you teach your kids to behave by having them submit to your strength over them?
I hope not.
Anna yes anything within reason is better than the amputation of the kittens toe ends but teaching them good behavior kindly makes for a happy home for all concerned.

Feb 13, 2011 To Anna
by: Barbara

Anna I agree it's vitally important to stop cats being declawed, the whole concept of declawing is something I can't understand because here in England it makes everyone shudder and cry out in shock at the thought of mutilating cats paws for human convenience. I am angry with people in the USA who casually accept this horrible procedure and even think it's desirable and who allow it to continue unchallenged (except by a dedicated minority)
But I also hate the thought of humans ruling animals by fear,of course I've heard of the idea of acting like the kitten's mother before, but this latest opinion is only that - the writer's opinion and only based on what she thinks is the way to train a cat. But cats are not up for "training" cats are not dogs and they are not humans, gripping tails, grabbing scruffs, breathing in faces, it's all about showing who's boss and to me that isn't what having a cat in the home is all about. The writer would get far better results from kindness and for using the patience that leads her to repeat her handholds and breathing "tens or a hundred times" would be better used in gently and repeatedly showing her cat how to use the scratching post. I dislike the advice to "grab" cats and the constant references to "it". I don't feel that this person empathises with cats at all.

Barbara avatar

Feb 12, 2011 great alternative
by: Anna

Hello, Elen and Barbara:
I think there is truth to both of your concepts, and the most important is that we all agree to search for the ways to spare cats from the horrific mutilation (declawing) by their owners. If it takes to be gently picked up and stared at a little, or getting a special scratch resistant furniture or covers, or just spraying the areas you want the kitten to avoid by citrus sense, or strong perfume, or black pepper, there are ways to achieve your goal using the educated approach and patience.

But I think the most important here is to place a SCRATCHING POLE in each room, may be even rub it with the cat nip once in a while. Scratching allows cats to file off their growing claws (like squirrels have to file their growing teeth on hard fruits and nuts), to stretch (this is an important part of their physical fitness), and to establish the hierarchy by marking the territory - the higher, the better.

Why would they go for a low sitting and perfume smelling couch if they had a much better and satisfying option? Especially if you find a way to reward them for scratching a pole.

Feb 12, 2011 Food for bullies
by: OJ

Well done Elen for your encouragement to people to put their cats in their lowly place.
I'm sure the bullies will enjoy holding them by the scruff of their necks,blowing at them and grabbing their paws and tails until they submit.
As long as they learn to behave like a person what does it matter if they have to be overpowered to do that.

Feb 12, 2011 Cats
by: Ruth

I live in England where do not declaw cats either and never did even before it was banned here.
It doesn't make me happy to be right but it makes me very unhappy that someone might read and use your method of training cats when there is no need for the punishment of them.
You said yourself your way doesn't always work, well mine never fails !
There is no such thing as a bad kitten or cat but there are bad 'owners'
I prefer the love and respect for each other earned and shared by the cats and the human caretakers in our family where no one uses their power over another.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Feb 12, 2011 Answer to Ruth
by: Elen

Oh are welcome to it.
My cats are happy as Larry. And i love my cats as i love my own kids. There is as many ways as there are people in everything. In Finland it is forbidden to de-claw cats anyway. I had never even heard of anything so insane until a few days ago. So i kinda reckoned it had to be an American idea in the first place, and obviously there are lots of people in America who do not treat their cats the way you lucklily do, so i am merely telling my point of view on a simple method of training your cat. wich is -redirecting it as you say. I will wholly grant you to be right though, if it makes you happy.
All the best.

Feb 12, 2011 You're a bully
by: Barbara

You might think you've got it all sewn up but reading your article all that I picked up from it was that you bully cats and are trying to encourage people to rule their cats by intimidation, you refer throughout your article to cats as "it" and the whole thing is about putting cats in their place by holding them in ways that distress them, and breathing on them, how ridiculous! The only thing I agree with in the whole article is that declawing cats is cruel, otherwise it's an exercise in pure self grandeur, all about what you know and what you recommend based on nothing but what you think. My reason for having cats in my life is because I love them for what they are and how they act and react with me, I don't want to subjugate them, I want to live alongside them and I don't expect them to be mini-humans, they are a different species and therefore will act differently to humans. If I wasn't prepared to accept that without trying to change them then I wouldn't have adopted cats.

Barbara avatar

Feb 12, 2011 I disagree
by: Ruth

I totally disagree with you because in my experience kittens do not need scruffing or their paws grabbing to learn behaviour acceptable to humans.
They should not be punished for doing what kittens do, they only need to be gently and kindly redirected.
They are not like dogs who need to have a 'boss'
They can very easily be taught by patience, gentleness and kindness.
With your method the cat ends up afraid or at the very least in awe of you !
37 years of kittens and cats co-existing happily with my family is proof this way works. A career as a vet nurse and voluntary work with cats has taught me a lot.
You need a tall strong scratching post which will not topple over. Teach the kitten to use it by first showing him how with your own nails, then gently lift up his front paws until he digs his claws in. Praise him when he scratches and give him a treat. After that you only need to lift him gently to his post (supporting his weight, NOT by his scruff) and again praise him when he uses it.
If he jumps onto places he shouldn't, simply lift him gently down and distract him with a cat toy, use the same method if he goes to scratch or bite a person.
Cats are highly intelligent and soon learn acceptable behaviour.
Breathing onto a cat's nose, speaking sternly or holding the root of his tail is unnecessary as is any form of punishment for simply being a cat and doing what cats do.
Cats are part of the family and should be accepted as such. Their ways are different to ours, they don't ask to live with us, they are for our pleasure and we should be honoured that they share our home.
We owe them kindness and respect for the species they are.
I do agree that declawing is very cruel and anyone who will only have a declawed cat is not a fit caretaker of any cat.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

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