Should I use a spray bottle on my cat?
There are different views on this and some websites actively recommend it as a cat trainig method. Apparently in a proportion of US homes there are spray bottles in every room! These are, in effect, water pistols used to squirt water at domestic cats who are on surfaces which are forbidden by the owner. The cat doesn’t know it. The owner may think that their cat will learn that sitting or walking on a particular surface or area is out of bounds if they squirt water at their cat when they are on these surfaces.
Well, their cat will certainly learn something but they won’t understand why they are being attacked by their friend and companion when engaged in natural and normal behaviour. What they will learn is that their owner is a creature to be feared and avoided in certain circumstances. Is that the desired objective of the person doing the water squirting? I think not.
As Jackson Galaxy says, the cat ‘is learning that the counter is a bad place to be if you are present and holding a spray bottle. He only reacts when he sees you holding the spray bottle, which makes you the originator of the unpleasant feeling’.
The bottom line is that spraying your cat with water to stop them doing something is a sign of domestic cat failure. It is a failure in the human-to-domestic-cat relationship. I can understand why people resort to it. They don’t know any other way and/or don’t have the time or patience to use positive reinforcement which is quite a subtle process certainly in comparison to out and out punishment which the spray bottle symbolises.
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But instilling fear into a cat is not the way forward and I think cat owners realise it. It is an act of desperation for some and for others it is a careless and frankly thoughtless form of human behaviour which should stop as it undermines the human-to-cat relationship.
It is argued that all cat punishment is inappropriate. This is because there are better ways. There are alternatives, one of which I have mentioned: positive reinforcement (see some articles on ‘training’ below). I don’t want to sound harsh but if a person insists on using a spray bottle on their cat you have to ask whether the person is suited as a cat guardian. They don’t have to own a cat. They could try adopting a dog or a hamster. Or have no pets at all.
As a cat companion guardian you have to compromise in your life. You have to accept some stuff that you don’t like such as cat hair everywhere, meowing at four in the morning, and your cat sitting on the kitchen counter. You can’t adopt a cat without some downsides and responsibilities. It is not all plus. That’s normal life. It is the equation of living.
Without wishing to anthropomorphise (humanise) cats, we avoid physically punishing toddlers because it is emotionally damaging and there are better ways to ‘train’ kids. Cats are members of the family. Within the family home they should have equal rights to humans. Therefore don’t physically punish your cat. Find the better way. Find the patience and tolerance to use the positive non-fearful route. Or simple accept that your cat can go on those surfaces.
SOME MORE ON TRAINING WHICH INCLUDES POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT:
Infographic on ‘Train to reduce acquired fear in your cat’
How does a clicker improve cat and dog training?
Do you sometimes yell at your cat or dog?
How to get a cat used to his travel carrier (and more)
Cat ‘training is logical’ – informal and formal training
Cats and dogs will entertain you at Pet Shenanigans, Busch Gardens, Williamsburg
Every phrase in this article is wise, but this jumped out at me the most: instilling fear into a cat is not the way forward.
Thanks Albert. Hope you are well and avoiding Covid-19. I think it is hyped up and I am currently behaving as normal. The shops have been stripped bare of food by human locusts here in the UK.