Best selling author agrees with PoC on cat punishment

Temple Grandin, in association with Catherine Johnson, in their book “Animals Make Us Human” agrees with me and other PoC supporters and regulars (who are very important to this website in getting the message across) that..

“…you can’t train a cat using punishment and negative reinforcement….”

Click on this link if you’d like to see the page I wrote a long time ago. My page is not scientific. It is based on common sense but I am pleased someone in authority and who is respected in the animal and cat world supports my argument. This is important because a lot of writers on cat behavior on the internet and in magazines encourage what can only be described as cat punishment. There are manufacturers making devices which are totally based on cat punishment. These people and businesses are very short-sighted and ill-informed in my view.

Taining a cat with punishment is not good

Training a cat with punishment is not good

Temple Grandin writes that as cats are essentially less domesticated than dogs, horses and cows they react to negative reinforcement as a wild cat would. The wild cat ancestor – the African/Asian wildcat – is lurking just under the surface of the domestic cat. Wild cats do not react well to negative reinforcement.

Temple Grandin refers to Karen Pryor, who describes how wild animals react to punishment or someone trying to force them to do something. One example she uses refers to is otters:

“Put a tame pet otter on a leash, and either you go where the otter wants to go, or it fights the leash with all its might….”

Temple Grandin spells it out:

“The only way to train a wild animal is to use positive reinforcement…”

A cat should be trained by rewarding him for doing things you want him to do. It is interesting that traditionally the training of animals is by negative reinforcement no matter how mild the “punishment” might be. The ubiquitous form of negative reinforcement for a companion animal is the lead and collar around a dog. Pulling on it creates discomfort, which prevents the dog from pulling.

People who want to train their cats (not many because most of us are happy to be trained by our cat) should remember that the domestic cat, even the docile flat faced Persian who is indoors all the time, is not that different from any of the wild cats.

Nicholas Dodman calls the domestic cat, “a miniature tiger in your living room”. And Mel and Fiona Sunquist in their master work The Wild Cats Of The World say the following, on page 104, about the domestic cat:

“Though cats have been domesticated for some time, they quickly and easily revert to the wild or feral state….”

There you have it. Domestic cats are wild at heart and is not advisable to train wild cats by punishment. Let’s stick to far more effective and humane methods if we want to train a cat. Personally I wouldn’t bother. Just let things happen naturally and you’ll train your cat to a certain extent without even knowing it is happening and vice versa. Cats train us gently too.

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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15 Responses

  1. Elisa says:

    Sealy doesn’t come when called or stay put in my lap when I pick him up. He looks away from me if I hold him up to see his face. If he’s in his feeding cage and I want to go over and get him out he’ll run to the back of it. Yet he comes and sleeps in my lap for hours at a time when he’s readyand he comes out of his feeding cage when HE wants to. I think he has US trained. We just let him do as he pleases.

  2. Everycat says:

    The only thing that punishment teaches, is fear of more punishment.
    Nothing can be truly learned whilst in a state of fear.

    This is a basic tenet of humanist based teaching. It’s true for all species. Good to see it’s being promoted here, but I wouldn’t expect anything else from PoC!

    Good piece.

    • Michael says:

      Yes, well said Everycat. Training a cat through punishment it is not learning it is just avoiding pain and discomfort. For humans punishment seems to work because the human can connect the pain to the objective.

  3. Rose says:

    How I agree!It angers me also when anyone says I only have to sternly say NO to my cat and it behaves.
    If saying NO worked then the word wouldn’t need to be said would it.
    Cats do not misbehave,they behave as cats and that’s the beauty of them to me.
    I don’t punish my kids,my cats,or my dogs,I kindly showed them the error of their ways by removing them from anything they shouldn’t be doing the first time they did it and they stopped doing it.

  4. Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

    Well allellulia, what we have been preaching for years has at last been endorsed by someone people might take notice of and I hope all of them who shout at their cats, growl at them, squirt water at them, scruff them, time out them, hit them and all the other unkind and sometimes even cruel things they do to them, read this article.
    This is the second thing, after declawing, which makes me very angry and sad that some people and their ‘advice’ cause cats all the world over untold misery, but most won’t admit it.
    Anyone who can’t teach a cat acceptable behaviour, purely by kindness and patience, should not have a cat!

  5. Cats are the only human domesticated pets that own their human care-takers!Congratulations Michael for being recognized by respected acclaimed best-seller authors Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson, in their book “Animals Make Us Human” for your “P.O.C” site.As a blogger/Photographer on various topics i understand the thrill and pleasure of your work being quoted or used by a best-seller author. “P.O.C” is definitely also a widely read cats site on the internet, although more Western in content since amajority of cat owners are from the Western world. “P.O.C” is definitely up there amongst the best in encyclopedia’s, a practical guide on cats and cat maintenance.

    • Michael says:

      I would love to have a writer from Asia, write for PoC about the world of cats in Asia. Asia is very important in the world and becoming more westernised so there are more domestic cats in that part of the world.

  6. Leah says:

    Cats don’t need to be trained thats the beauty of them they are a completely free spirit and I wouldn’t have mine any other way.

  7. Marc says:

    There’s not much to say here – it’s all true. And who want’s to really ‘train’ their cat anyway. Sure you want to persuade them in certain directions from time to time. Persuade them not to do something dangerous or persuade them to come to bed – whatever it is I really don’t like the word ‘train’. To me it gives a message of total inequality and once again humans ‘harnessing and controlling nature’ for whatever purpose it might be. I think I would get bored living with a dog. I have for short periods of time and to me its strange having an animal that is so predictable and will generally always do what you want. The nice thing about a cat is you don’t have to question whether you are doing the right thing or not because the cat will just ignore you if it doesn’t like your idea.

    One of the great neurosis of our time is that people are often control freaks. For these people a dog is the perfect pet. I think to live with a cat you must be quite the opposite actually. For a start, all the curtains and couches are fair game, sorry but you just gotta let go. Declawing is a control freaks answer to having a cat. I’m glad I’m not controlling. It must be such a hard life always needing things to be a certain way and sometimes to the point of being morally questionable. I think the executives who come along to old peoples homes and want the cats removed, or the restaurant cat whos been there for 12 years and the new owner wants the cat out – these are the control freaks of the world. The people who make it into positions of relative power and the people who are constantly told by culture and media that they are successful. I wish those people as much paranoia and extraordinary bad luck as they can get – let them worry their little mountains of achievments will just crumble and fall apart.

    Our culture really needs a good spin in the dirt – a cycle in the washing machine. Sorry to get all philosophical – but the whole process of growth according to constructive criticism or training by punishment, these are the signs that our society is quite sick. Positive reinforcement is the opposite, but how many people even know there is an opposite? Not many I would say. You can’t punish a cat because you will ruin your relationship with him or her and you will also create an extraordinary inequality. Cats cannot punish each other – do any animals punish other than humans? I think not. It’s an entirely negative and human invention and supports the system of slowest progress based on fear and failure. We can not want a cat to do something but who are we to punish an animal in this world. If you want equality you cannot punish – on a fundamental level it creates a limited relationship between human and cat.

    • Michael says:

      Declawing is a control freaks answer to having a cat.

      You should write and article with that title.

      Cats cannot punish each other – do any animals punish other than humans? I think not. It’s an entirely negative and human invention

      That is the exact point I made in my article years ago. Punishment truly is a human process and it is indicative of our nature and culture that we have it and animals don’t.

      Many people think that the cane should be brought back to schools in the UK because kids have become ill-disciplined. Punishment seems to work for humans but not animals because humans understand it, animals have no idea what it means. It is training animals by fear.

      • Marc says:

        I got the cane in boarding school in England. I didn’t realise they had abolished it but that was in the late 80’s so maybe things have changed.

        If you punish a cat the cat is going to think you don’t like it, and not make the connection that it has anything to do with what it feels is natural to do anyway. The cat might end up making the connection and then will think ‘the human is mean to me when i’m having a stretch’ – or some such. Absurd really.

    • Valley Girl says:


      What a great comment. And, I agree totally with Michael.

      I can’t remember where I wrote this sentiment- maybe on POC, sometime, somewhere. If I had a clue as to how to find it, I would.

      Positive reinforcement for cat behavior works. Negative reinforcement aka punishment does not work. And, punishment reduces the likelihood that a cat will pay attention to you in the future.

      When I adopted Tootsie, she was a sweet cat, but very scared. I have no idea how this came about. And, she never did much that I didn’t want her to do. What she did was pretty minor, like clawing at the cane furniture, or clawing at the box springs on my bed.

      I bought two large cat “towers”, well actually not towers, but 2 feet tall and about a foot across. One I put upstairs, the other downstairs. Whenever she would start to claw these, I was there to say “good cat”, “you are such a good cat”, and give my approval in anyway I could when she clawed the cat towers, covered in carpet. Positive reinforcement.

      She knows that this is approved behavior.

      Early on, when she occasionally clawed the cane furniture or the fabric on the box springs, I would gently remove her, and say something like “this is not a good idea”. I think the simple act of removing her from the cane furniture or the box springs, while at the same time totally reinforcing her clawing of the carpet covered “towers” got the message across.

      I’ve never punished a cat for doing something I didn’t want the cat to do, so I have no data to indicate that this works. Because I never tried it. I just knew from my life-long cat experience that that that is no way to treat a cat.

      • Marc says:

        Exactly, it’s instinct not to punish for those of us who are still in touch with some more truthful part of our own nature. It doesn’t even come naturally to punish a cat or human. I couldn’t do it without feeling like a total ass. It’s a constructed strategy and it’s awful and desperate and works the wrong way. Relationships are more important than control. I’d rather lose my couch than my relationship with my cat and I can’t believe somebody who doesn’t get that. Sometimes Lilly goes so hard on my couch I can’t help but giggle – it’s total massacre and it’s a nice couch, but whatever man, it’s funny to even think of trying to stop her. You are right when you say “it’s no way to treat a cat”.

  1. February 19, 2013

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