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Behavior & training


How to Train a Kitten

Many people assume cats can’t be trained. Not true! Cats are very trainable and can be highly motivated when using appropriate, positive, cat-friendly techniques.

The best time to start training is when your cat is a kitten. Begin the process when you first bring your kitten home because she’s ready to learn. There are many things you’ll need to teach her, but here are six basic lessons.

1. Teach Gentle Handling

Your kitten is small and easy to hold now, but when she’s grown, you’ll need to pick her up and hold her for any number of reasons, such as medicating, nail trims, or safety. If you start training her now to accept being touched and held, it will pay off as she matures.

Do several short training sessions per day where you pet your kitten and touch different body parts such as ears, tail, and paws. Touch her along the mouth and gently rub the teeth. Make training positive and don’t create frustration by trying to do long sessions.

2. Carrier Training

Many cats don’t get seen by the veterinarian often enough because cat parents dread the carrier battle. Being able to get your cat easily and safely into a carrier lowers her stress during travel, reduces your risk of being injured, and can save valuable time in an emergency.

Teach your kitten to become comfortable with the carrier. Start by leaving the carrier out with the door open. A hard plastic kennel-style carrier typically works best.

Feed your kitten in the carrier so she makes a positive association with being inside. Initially, keep the door open but work up to closing it briefly while she’s eating. In-between meals, periodically toss a treat in the carrier to continue to entice your kitten. Close the carrier door, pick up the carrier, walk around the room and then place it back down. Let your kitten out and offer another treat.

Continue the training so you can transition to taking the kitten (in her carrier) outside to the car. Keep the engine turned off and just sit in the car briefly. In future sessions, start the engine for a few moments. When your kitten is comfortable with these steps, take short rides and work up to longer trips (maybe to the bank drive-thru or to pick up a curbside delivery).

If your kitten feels more comfortable being hidden, cover the carrier with a towel.

Keep the carrier out all the time so your kitten becomes comfortable with its presence. Line it with a soft towel so it can serve as a cozy napping hideaway.

3. Socialize Your Kitten

Often, the reason many adult cats are fearful of experiences such as having visitors in the home is because of a lack of socialization or inadequate socialization as a kitten.

The ideal socialization period is between 2-7 weeks of age, although it’s certainly still very beneficial to continue beyond that. The socialization period is when kittens are most receptive to new experiences and learning.

This is the time to expose your kitten to:

  • New people
  • Frequent, gentle handling
  • Carrier training and brief travel
  • Other pets (done safely, of course and after your kitten is vaccinated)
  • Normal household sounds and comings and goings

The exposure should always be done gently, gradually, and at a level that’s well within a kitten’s comfort zone so you don’t create fear. Keep it positive, reward with treats, and pay attention to never overwhelm your kitten.

4. Litter Box Training

Cats have the instinct to dig in a sandy substrate, eliminate, and then cover their waste so they don’t attract predators.

Even though cats often take naturally a litter box, not every kitten understands the concept. Perhaps the mother cat wasn’t there to teach the lesson. Kittens also don’t have the bladder control yet to be as precise in litter box duties as adult cats.

Unless adopting a very young, orphaned kitten, chances are, your youngster will do well with just some fundamental guidance. Set her up for success by providing an uncovered litter box with sides low enough for easy kitten entry. If you live in a larger home or apartment, limit your kitten’s access initially so she becomes familiar with the box location. Fill the box with a soft, unscented, scoopable litter to make it comfortable for her to stand on. Make sure the litter box is located in a convenient area so she doesn’t have to search for it when her bladder is full.

If your kitten needs a little extra guidance, gently bring her to the litter box after naps, meals, or playtime. Don’t force her to stay there. Just be a gentle guide.

Never punish for accidents. Be patient with your kitten as she’s just learning.

5. Scratching Post Training

Provide appealing, claw-friendly surfaces so your kitten won’t be tempted to scratch furniture. Most cats prefer sisal-covered posts. Invest in a sturdy, tall scratching post that will work as your kitten grows.

Place the post in an open area so it’s easy for her to find. Use an interactive toy and play with your kitten around the post. When she digs her nails in, she’ll realize this is an appealing object for scratching.

In addition to vertical scratching posts, provide corrugated cardboard horizontal scratch pads to give your kitten more than one option.

Don’t punish your kitten if she scratches the furniture. Instead, please a scratching post right next to the object she’s currently targeting. Cover the furniture piece with a sheet (tucked in well so she can’t get underneath) and she’ll realize the post is a better choice.

6. Teach Your Kitten Appropriate Play

This is actually more of a lesson you need to teach yourself because it may be tempting to use your fingers as toys. Teach your kitten to only bite or scratch toys. Don’t send a mixed training message by letting her nip your fingers. It may not hurt now but it will when she has grown.

Provide safe toys for solo playtime and use interactive toys for the sessions you do together. Interactive toys are based on a fishing pole design, and they put a distance between your hands and your kitten’s teeth/claws. Interactive toys also let you move the toy like prey so she can fully enjoy the game.

Always put interactive toys away after playtime to prevent any strangulation risk. Only leave out safe toys intended for unsupervised play.

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