How to discipline your cat in a kind way


What to do when your cat bites, attacks, scratches the walls… The list of mischiefs might be long, but in front of all of these actions the solutions recommended by experts are quite similar. Here we explain you how to scold your cat when he misbehaves. Rule number one: learn to understand his instincts!

Why is your cat misbehaving?

Before it is possible to solve a problem, it is necessary to understand the reasons for your cat’s bad behaviour. Many cat’s behavioural problems are actually normal cat activities but happen when he cannot easily express his natural instincts, for instance:

  • Climbing
  • Chasing things
  • Playing
  • Sharpening his claws

Cats climb, bite and scratch by nature, so if you do not provide outlets for his needs or your cat does not exercise enough so he has too much energy, it will be easier for him to get into trouble. He's just expressing his natural instincts.

The basics of cat training: cats versus dogs

Cats are very different from dogs, not only in their general behaviour but in how they react in front of training attempts. Dogs are much more eager to please which makes them generally much easier to train than cats. It is still possible for owners to train cats for some behaviours, but the same techniques that work well for dogs such as discipline are likely not to work for cats. For example, cats will not respond to:

  • Being shouted at
  • Being hit
  • Being locked in a room
  • Having something taken away
  • Any discipline not immediately associated with the time of the act. For example if they have been found to defecate in the wrong place but time after the event has happened

These types of discipline or training will fail and might even affect your cat’s behaviour and harm your relationship with him. In front of these actions, the cat will most likely not make any association between what he has done and the discipline, but instead he will feel fear or may even try to run away. Instead of helping you cat, he will probably become increasingly fearful and be less likely to both be friendly and to learn to distinguish what behaviour is either desired or not wanted by the owner.

Guidelines for success: how to discipline your cat

The basic rules for a greater success in getting your cat to respond to training are to provide him with a positive experience and a better environment to pursue his natural instincts, for example:

  • Being fed when well-behaved and using this as a reward
  • Being played with; to help bonding and exercise
  • Being talked to gently; to give mental stimulation and help bonding
  • Being noticed; so he does not need to draw the attention by doing something wrong
  • Having a scratching post; this should be accessible and more attractive to use than furniture or curtains
  • Having a clean litter tray; cats do not like dirty trays and are less likely to use them

Some types of negative experience that won’t instil fear of you as owner can also be used to help training. Try the following ideas at times when your cat has misbehaved:

  • No treats
  • No games
  • Ignore your cat
  • An indirect act such as water from a sprayer, but make sure it does not directly associate this with you or it will cause some of the negative effects described earlier.

Long term cat training

The only really effective way that cat discipline works in the long term is by not using any positive rewards when they behave badly. Cats cannot easily be trained in the short term, unlike dogs, although feeding very palatable treats to reward a behaviour does work for some individuals. Instead use time and perseverance and the basic training ideas given above.

These ideas are not specific to particular behaviour problems with cats, and there are also some precise ways to tackle certain individual problems. However, as cats very much follow their instincts this makes certain behaviours very difficult to change. Try to understand how a cat thinks to help appreciate why the cat does some behaviours. For example, many cats bring dead birds or mice they have hunted and caught back into the house.

Because hunting is such an instinctive behaviour the questions needs to be asked if this is a behaviour problem or not? Therefore, other ways than discipline including an understanding of the nature of cats may be needed. Try to think like a cat to help decide when and what is best done as training in an individual situation.

There may still be some specific behaviour problems that cannot easily be resolved, and in these cases, seek advice from a cat behaviour expert or your veterinarian.

For your interest

Hunting and feeding behaviour of cats

Cats are natural carnivores and their wild ancestors are expert solitary hunters that will prey on a range of animals including small rodents, birds and insects.

How does heat affect dogs and cause heatstroke?

Dogs get overheated more easily than people and this can quickly lead to physical distress known as heat stroke (hyperthermia).