The title to this article sounds improbable but I’d like to explain what I mean. We should all know by now that punishing your cat as an act of training is very wrong. It does not work. I think that’s commonsense. If you punish your cat he/she will see you as strange creature to be avoided. You don’t want that. You want the opposite, in fact.
Please note that in this post I am not advocating cat punishment. I hate that idea. What I am discussing here is something entirely different. I hope I have explained it clearly enough.
Some people recommend using a water pistol on their cat to train them. The idea is that if your cat does something that you don’t like (which by the way will be natural behavior for your cat) then you can spray a jet of water onto your cat to stop him doing it. This is negative reinforcement – a form of punishment and wrong.
However, if your cat encounters something mildly unpleasant when he’s doing something that you don’t wish to do and if he does not associate that mildly unpleasant experience with you, the cat’s owner, then it is not a form of punishment. It is simply creating, in the cat’s mind, an association between something mildly unpleasant and a certain form of behaviour which he wishes to do.
So, if for example, your cat receives an unexpected squirt of water from a soaker water pistol with a long-range (so that he does not associate the water with you) then he will have learned to associate that particular action with something that’s unpleasant.
I think it is difficult to argue against that. I have to accept this as a method of preventing your cat doing something which you dislike. However, the unpleasant experience must not be something which is frightening; it must be mildly unpleasant.
Another example might be that your cat likes to jump up onto the kitchen counter and you don’t like it. I actually like to have my cat on the kitchen counter but that’s just me. If you don’t like this you might place some double sided sticky tape on the work surface which will be unpleasant for your cat to walk on. This should encourage him to jump off and it should make him think twice about jumping up onto the counter in the future.
Dr Fogle, a well-known veterinarian/author and expert on the domestic cat, calls this “divine intervention”. He stresses that this sort of mildly unpleasant experience is not, in the cat’s eyes, coming from the cat’s owner but is simply a direct result of what the cat just did.
He makes the point that from the cat’s perspective these are acts of God and not punishment. It’s about the cat making associations between certain events and places and a negative experience.
It is important to be kind when using this form of training. The objective is to train your cat to stop doing what he wants to do because it is unpleasant to do it but it must never be remotely painful as that would be cruel.
You can see that this is a delicate subject to discuss. It is one which I have difficulty with but, as mentioned, it does make sense provided great care is taken in utilising the procedure. It should be used in a very limited way. I would expect, too, that it would be suitable for a small number of behavioral situations – i.e. unsuited to litter box training.
What you think about this form of training? Do you think it is too near the idea of punishment as training? Or have you tried this sort of thing?
P.S. – it is probably tiresome to say it but so-called bad cat behaviour is in fact natural cat behaviour which some humans don’t like.