How do I teach my cat it’s not okay to bite or attack?

Proactive play with cats to prevent attacks on owners

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A lady asked this question on How do I teach my cat it’s not okay to bite or attack? I’ll presume that she means to bite or attack her and proceed on that basis.

Initial issues

You have to get out of the way one or two points before you answer the question. You have to make sure your cat is healthy and not in pain and fully socialised. If a cat is in pain he may be aggressive. If a cat is unsocialised he is likely to be aggressive towards people. I presume that your cat is neither in pain nor unsocialised. Also teaching by punishment is not recommended. It is liable to hurt the relationship.

Hunting is in the DNA

What you’re asking is how to train out of your cat his raison d’être (the reason for his life, living). I don’t think you can do that, absolutely, but you can reduce attacks on a cat owner very substantially to the point where they are insignificant.

You have two let your cat bite and attack because it’s in his DNA but it should be directed at an object other than your hand, your leg or some other part of your anatomy.


You can achieve this through play. Play is not a luxury for a cat, it is a necessity. As Jackson Galaxy says, dog owners take their dog out on a leash for a walk every day because it is an innate need in a dog. The energy must go somewhere, he says. For a cat you substitute going for a walk with playing. The cat owner should invest in playing with their cat in a committed way using appropriate toys such as a cat tease every day. This allows a cat to use his hunting energy on inanimate objects.

It drains his energy to attack and bite and is barrier to what humans call “bad cat behaviour”. Jackson Galaxy does not just recommend that you invest in play, he also recommends that you do it when it is most appropriate. He calls these times “high-energy times of the day”.

When – diarise – detectivism

You can find out when these times are by diarising when attacks normally take place. Once you’ve analysed this, he says you can take proactive measures to prevent it happening by playing energetically with your cat 30 minutes beforehand. The idea is to burn off that energy and desire to hunt leaving the owner free of attacks.

Jackson Galaxy calls this “cat detectivism”. He likes to create phrases and terms describing how we should interact with our domestic cat. He thinks that domestic cats often engage in play aggression at about the same time every day. This provides guidance to take proactive measures.


Another useful way to take proactive measures is to work out not only when aggression takes place but where. For example, if your cat becomes aggressive by a window it may indicate that there are cats outside “trespassing” on your cat’s territory which may trigger aggressive behaviour. This could be redirected aggression if your cat is aggressive towards you.

Another example is that your cat attacks your ankles from under a piece of furniture. To correct this behaviour, he says that you should play with him under the same piece of furniture. Specifically, in this instance, he says that you should use a feather tease or something similar at ground level to replicate what a ground living prey item would do (as opposed to a bird).

Don’t ask for it

Something else that people can do to avoid being attacked and bitten by their cat is to stop asking for it!

Cats will not respond to roughhousing in the same way that dogs do. It is likely to trigger defensiveness and fear or heavy play which can be painful. We all know the classic case of our cat grabbing our hand with all four paws, biting the hand and then raking the arm with their hind legs.

I’ve already mentioned overstimulation in an earlier post. This is due to over petting.

Another thing that can be avoided is if you have more than one cat to try and break up a fight with your hand. Perhaps the best way to deal with it is to distract them or try to guide them to a quiet location for a “timeout” as Jackson Galaxy says.

How cat relates to your hands

You can teach your cat to not regard your hands as toys to play with. For instance, hands should not be placed in front of your cat when she is in a hyped up state. Approaching your cat with your hands for petting should ideally take place when she is in a “sleepy late-night” state.

When cats treat hands as toys they can become very sensitive to them. They might even shy away. The objective here is to create a positive association towards your hands. You can do this by holding treats and approaching your cat from a low angle rather than from above her head.

Placement of hands

Placing your hand over the top of your cat’s head could be seen as a threat by our cat depending upon his emotional state and relationship with you. Approaching with your hands from a low position is probably better. In this regard, Jackson Galaxy refers to a technique that he has developed….

Greeting with hands

In introductions to a cat, he relies on what he calls the ‘Michelangelo technique’. As the cat approaches Jackson does the following (I will describe it verbatim for the sake of clarity):

“I will allow my hand to relax and, palm down, extend my pointer finger – not extended rigid, but relaxed, so that it almost seems to be coming off my hand like an upside-down ‘U'”.

The idea is to give the cat the impression that the tip of your finger is another cat’s nose which should provoke the nose touching greeting. This is a friendly gesture between cats. Essentially, you are greeting your cat with your finger rather than your nose.


Finally, all the experts advise us to trim our cat’s nails on a regular basis.

Source: Myself and Total Cat Mojo by Jackson Galaxy.

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