I’d like people’s input on this if you have ideas and time. We all know how important a scratching post is. It allows a domestic cat to express his/her natural desires to scratch without upsetting his owner who may be house proud and who may find it distressing to see her furniture scratched.
One issue that pops up occasionally is whether a cat will use a scratching post. This presents a barrier to purchasing one. It may encourage people to consider declawing their cat as the easier option (for the cat owner), which as we all know is really the unnecessary mutilation of a cat. Declawing should be avoided at all costs.
In this article I’d like to mention some pointers that may be useful in getting a cat to use a scratching post and where it should be sited. Hopefully it will encourage people to buy one or two or three (more than one may be needed)!
Where to Put the Scratching Post
Obviously, the scratching post should not be in an out-of-the-way place and hidden. Although it might not look that great as an item of furniture, your cat needs to know where it is. It should be the largest and most solid scratching post that you can get and afford. The larger the better because they are more stable and they replicate more accurately a tree upon which a cat will normally scratch if allowed outside. When the post is conveniently located it will be a visual reminder to scratch there.
A good percentage of cats will like to use the post when the owner comes home or in anticipation of their meal. This may give some clues as to where to position the post. Some cats will scratch as a territorial marker rather than to maintain claws, to stretch or to just express an emotion. This may happen at significant junctions in the home (e.g. hallway, near back door). A scratching post or a wall-mounted scratcher can be located there.
If the post is for a kitten it should be in the middle of her room or her usual area of activity so that she cannot miss it. A cat who has access to a large area of the house or the entire house will probably mean more than one post to make it easier for the kitten to find it.
In a multi-cat household scratching posts should be provided in areas where each cat spends the most time. In addition, some cats might not feel comfortable sharing a post.
Training Your Cat to use the scratching Post
The training method is the same for kittens and adult cats. You should make training a game. You can do this by dangling a “cat tease” (a feather on the end of the stick) or other cat toy right next to the post. Your cat will go for the feather and in doing so he will feel the texture of the scratching post. It should prove irresistible. You can scratch the post yourself with your nails which will create a sound that may well encourage him to join in.
You can lay the post on its side and dangle the cat tease over the post. She should jump on the post to play with the feather and thereby discover the texture under her paws. She may well then begin scratching it. Once she has got used to this, the post can be positioned upright again.
It is not sensible to force your cat to scratch the post by grabbing his paws and putting them against the post. Your cat will dislike this experience no matter how carefully and gently you do it. Your cat will understandably become confused. His attention will be on how to release himself from your grasp rather than scratching the post. In addition, it will create a negative association between you and him. There is no substitute for play with a cat tease in order to get a cat involved in an area where you want him to be involved.
The training should be consistent to avoid confusing your cat. The toy or cat tease should not be dragged under clothing, behind drapes, et cetera, as this may encourage him to scratch there. Obviously, avoid running the cat tease along upholstered furniture as your kitten will want to climb it thereby extending his claws and scratching. In addition, it will send mixed messages.
Catnip can be used as well. It can be placed in and around a scratching post to encourage him/her to use it. In addition, positive reinforcement can be used. This means using clicker training (and here). When a cat is being trained to do something and he does it successfully, you click the clicker at that moment and provide a treat (tasty morsel of food). This reinforces the behaviour that you wish to train into him. The clicker can be used as it allows for more precise and clear timing between the successful action and the reward.
Retraining a Cat To Use a Post After Scratching on Furniture
If your cat has used furniture for a while and you want to get him to use a scratching post instead the first thing that you have to do is to prevent him scratching the furniture – obvious I guess. You have to make the scratched chair or item of furniture unappealing to your cat. You can lay strips of a product called Sticky Paws across the areas where he scratches the furniture. This is double sided, transparent tape made for the purpose. Please read the instructions before use because you don’t want to leave a mark on the furniture when you remove the tape.
If the cat has been scratching the entire item of furniture then you have to cover it up with a sheet and make sure the sheet cannot be removed. Sticky Paws can also be used at several locations to make the furniture unacceptable to your cat. You then place a large and stable scratching post next to this item of furniture whereupon he/she will discover something even better when he wishes to scratch the furniture. You can dangle a toy around the post.
Patience will be required and, of course, it goes without saying that you should not punish your cat in any way by either hitting or yelling at him if his efforts displease you. Once he has acquired his new behaviour you can gradually move the post over to where you want it to be permanently placed. It should be not too far from the same area where the furniture is. When he is trained the sheet and double sided tape can be removed.
These are some pointers and they are largely common sense. If you have other ideas please comment. It will be much appreciated.