We are reliably told by cat behaviorists that to stop a cat biting you, you should train her when she is a kitten by immediately and gently tapping her on the nose and saying in a firm voice, “No” after she has bitten you. When she grows up she won’t bite you. The idea is to send a clear-cut message to your young cat that your hands or yourself are not an acceptable target for a cat bite.
I have read this before a number of times. And I’ll be honest with you, I have no idea what this technique is based on. If you want to train a cat to do something it has to have its foundations in wild cat behavior. That is natural cat behavior. The motivation for not biting has to come from some sort of natural situation that occurs in the wild. And in the wild a mother cat would never try and train a cub to not bite. Certainly not by a tap on the nose and meowing “No”. Quite the contrary. In any case, kittens learn how hard to bite when playing each other. Biting is very natural for a cat and is nearly always in play. If she bites you hard it is because you have played too hard.
The technique is a rebuke and a mild form of punishment. I don’t think a cat understands any form of punishment because the whole concept of punishment is a based around human behavior and cognizance. However, cats do understand when their owner is unhappy with an aspect of their behavior. This does not have to be punishment but using a voice which indicates annoyance combined with appropriate behavior can work.
For me the best way to stop your cat biting you is to neither encourage your cat to bite you nor put your hand or another part of your anatomy in a position and under circumstances where she might bite you. In short, it is down to us to behave in a way that precludes the cat bite.
It is about (but not 100%) as simple as that and it has always served me well. I have never been bitten other than as a gentle love bite until recently as about four years ago I adopted a kitten who was raised feral by his mom. I domesticated and socialised him but he retained a desire to attack from time to time but rarely. I have trained it out of him by both positive reinforcement and by making it clear that it is unwanted. I explain how I did it (crudely if I am honest) on this page.
The identical rules and common sense applies to getting scratched by your cat. It should never happen. There may be exceptional occasions under emergency conditions when a person may be scratched. But this will be the rare exception. In day to day interactions with a cat neither a bite nor a scratch should ever happen.
One other situation where a person may be bitten is when handling a feral cat. Once again it is down the person handling the cat. If a cat is feral you treat the cat with the respect it deserves. Care should be taken and precautions put in place – common sense again and no punishment not event a tap on the nose and a firm “No”.
Original photo on Flickr