How to Train a Cat

Five Methods:Training a Cat to Use a Litter BoxTraining a Cat to Stop BitingTraining a Cat to Stop Scratching FurnitureTraining a Cat to Stay Off the CounterTraining a Cat to Do Tricks

Cats are incredibly independent creatures. In fact, researchers have found that even though humans have kept cats as pets for at least 9,000 years, house cats are only semi-domesticated.[1] Training a cat can be difficult, because it can require the trainer to convince the cat that the task at hand is a worthwhile skill to learn. But with a little patience, you can train your cat to be a better pet in more ways than one.

Method 1
Training a Cat to Use a Litter Box

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    Put the litter box in a quiet location. Cats prefer to relieve themselves in a peaceful location without a lot of action or loud noises in the background. However, cats also do not like having a litter box that is too far out of the way.
    • Make sure your cat can physically access his litter box. Do not put the box on a high shelf or an otherwise difficult to reach area if your cat is old and has trouble jumping or climbing.
    • Avoid noisy or high-traffic areas. Do not place a litter box next to a washing machine, for example, or in a crowded hallway that gets a lot of foot traffic. Cats want peace and privacy, but they also want convenience.[2]
    • Do not put your cat's litter box in close proximity to its food and water dishes. This may discourage your cat from using the litter box.[3]
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    Place your cat in his litter box shortly after meals. You may also want to place your cat in his box shortly after he wakes up and after playing, as all of these are times most cats will want to excrete wastes. Putting your cat into the litter box during times he will likely need to relieve himself, such as after eating a meal or when he's just woken up, may help remind him to use the litter box every time he needs to go.[4]
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    Keep a clean litter box. Cats will not want to use a litter box if it is dirty, and may resort to urinating or defecating around the house.[5]
    • Wear rubber gloves while handling cat feces to reduce the risk of contracting toxoplasmosis.[6]
    • Scoop out solid waste and clumps of urine-soaked litter everyday. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling soiled cat litter, even if you wore gloves.[7]
    • Do a thorough cleaning once a week. This entails dumping out old litter, washing the litter box with a mild detergent, thoroughly rinsing the soap away, drying the box completely, and pouring in a fresh layer of litter. You should only add about two to three inches (five to seven centimeters) of litter when refilling the box.[8]
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    Use a litter your cat will enjoy. There are many different types of cat litter, made from a variety of different materials. The most important factor is finding a litter that your cat will want to use. Most cats prefer clumping, unscented litter.[9] However, your cat may prefer something different, especially if he was adopted and grew accustomed to something in his former home. See what your cat responds to and adjust accordingly.
    • The most common types of cat litter are clay litter, clumping litter, crystal/silica gel litter, and bio-degradable litter.[10]
    • Switch litters gradually, rather than abruptly, to minimize the shock and confusion to your cat. Mix a small amount of the new litter in with your cat's existing litter every day over the course of three to five days. If you change litters gradually, your cat shouldn't notice a difference.[11]
    • If your cat continuously relieves himself in a potted plant, he may prefer using soil instead of litter. This can be especially problematic in cats that used to live outdoors. Try lining your cat's litter box with potting soil, and see if he uses it.[12]
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    Reward your cat for using the litter box. Give him praise immediately after he has finished using the litter box. This will build positive habits and teach him that that is where he should be relieving himself.[13]
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    Do not punish your cat for accidents outside the litter box. Negative reinforcement will not work, and may actually create a litter box avoidance problem in your cat.[14]
    • If your cat eliminates his wastes outside the litter box, it's important to immediately wash that surface with an odor-neutralizing enzymatic cleaner.[15] If your cat can smell his urine on the carpet, he might begin to associate that spot or that texture with going to the bathroom.
    • If your cat passes solid waste outside the litter box, pick it up (with a paper towel or gloves) and place it in the litter box. This will give your cat scent-based cues to use the litter box next time.[16]
    • Try making unwanted elimination areas less desirable to your cat. If he has a part of the house that he tends to relieve himself in instead of using his litter box, leave tin foil or double-sided tape on the floor in that spot to discourage him from going there.[17]
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    Try confinement training as a last resort. If your cat has a strong aversion to using his litter box and nothing else has worked, temporarily confining him in a single room with the litter box could instill an understanding in him to use the litter box.[18]
    • This should only be used as a last resort, when nothing else has worked.
    • Do not confine your cat to a small room for extended periods of time. It is cruel to lock your cat up over long periods of time.
    • Make sure your cat has food, water, and his bed in the room with the litter box. Keep the litter box on the opposite side of the room as the food, water, and bed.
    • f he poops on the floor, scoop it up and put it in the tray to give him a scent mark to return to. If you cat is absolutely sold on a substrate, such as soil or carpet, and refuses to use the tray, then put that substrate in the tray. If necessary, purchase multiple pieces of carpet off cut and put it in the tray. Once the cat uses the tray with carpet in it, start to sprinkle cat litter over the carpet in the tray, to give the cat the idea. Replace sodden carpet with fresh in the tray.

Method 2
Training a Cat to Stop Biting

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    Play dead. If your cat gets too aggressive while playing and uses his teeth or nails, respond by immediately disengaging from the play activity, standing or sitting still, and ignoring him. Your cat will want to play, and when you deprive him of movement and interaction, he will quickly learn that he does not want that outcome.[19]
    • Never hit your cat. Likewise, do not yell at him or squirt him with water if he has bitten you. Over time, these negative responses can cause your cat to become fearful of you.[20]
    • Try changing the nature of your play if your cat becomes too aggressive. It's possible that he has slipped into hunting mode. Use a toy with a long string or handle to allow your cat to exercise his need to hunt without causing you injury or creating poor behavior.[21]
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    Respect your cat's boundaries. It's possible he bit or scratched you because you handled him roughly or chased him into a defensive position. If your cat needs room, give him room. If he does not want to be handled, do not try to handle him.[22]
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    Give your cat a hunting outlet. Your cat may not be getting enough exercise or enough outlets for his predatory instincts. Try giving him toys that he can flick, like a ball or a stuffed mouse. This will make him feel like he is hunting and catching.[23] Better yet, use a toy with a string or pole, like a "fishing" toy, so that you and your cat can play together.[24]
    • Try using catnip. Many stuffed cat toys come with a velcro pouch to insert catnip, or you can simply sprinkle some catnip on the floor and let your cat roll around in it. About half of all cats won't find catnip desirable, but those that do will enjoy a short, safe burst of play time, followed by a period of ecstatic inactivity.[25]

Method 3
Training a Cat to Stop Scratching Furniture

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    Give your cat a scratching post. If your cat is constantly scratching you or pieces of furniture, there's a chance that he's doing it because he needs to scratch. A cat scratches household items to mark his scent on that item (using glands in his paws), and to remove the sheath that naturally grows over his claws. Giving him an outlet, like a scratching post, to satisfy his scratching needs should alleviate some of this problem behavior.[26]
    • If you catch your cat scratching furniture, a carpet, or any other place he's not supposed to scratch, interrupt him with a sharp noise. Try clapping your hands or shaking a jar full of coins to startle your cat out of his scratching.[27]
    • Immediately direct your cat to his scratching post. By interrupting his scratching of furniture and moving him to an acceptable object like a scratching post, you are reinforcing for your cat the notion that some objects are okay to scratch, but not others.[28]
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    Use citrus or menthol. Cats tend to dislike the smells of citrus and menthol. Rubbing a little bit of oil on the furniture your cat scratches the most could help prevent him from scratching there in the future.[29]
    • Soak several cotton balls in either citrus oil or a menthol-based muscle rub.[30]
    • Try dabbing the cotton ball on the legs and armrests of furniture your cat tends to target. Note that this will leave your furniture with a slight odor and may cause staining. Citrus oil may be less likely to stain. If you're concerned about the oils soaking through to your furniture, you may want to try simply taping the cotton balls onto the legs of couches and tables your cat tends to scratch.[31]
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    Use the squirt method. If your cat continues to pounce on your hands or feet, or destroy furniture around the house, it might be time to employ the water squirt method. Fill a spray bottle with clean, cold water. When the cat pounces, give him or her a quick squirt. Cats don't appreciate being sprayed with water, and they'll soon learn to associate this uncomfortable sensation with biting or scratching you.
    • Be advised, however, that your cat will come to associate you with the unpleasant sensation of being sprayed with water. He may even come to fear you.[32]
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    Do not get your cat declawed. No matter how bad of a scratching problem he has, getting your cat declawed will only cause worse problems. The process is incredibly painful for cats and can cause lasting problems like tissue necrosis, permanent pain, aversion to using the litter box, and increased aggression towards humans.[33] Consult your vet on other ways to curb your cat's scratching if this behavior becomes problematic.

Method 4
Training a Cat to Stay Off the Counter

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    Remove food. If you keep food stored on the counter, including your cat's food bowl, he may have come to think of the counter as a place to find food. Remove any food products from the counter, and keep the cat's food bowl on the floor (while he's using it) or in the sink to deter him from climbing up on the counter.[34]
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    Make the counters unpleasant. One of the best ways to keep your cat from climbing on the counter is to make the counter an unpleasant place for him.[35]
    • Apply double-sided tape to one side of a plastic laminated placemat.[36]
    • Lay the placemats across the counter.[37]
    • Over time, your cat will come to associate the counter with the unpleasant experience of walking on tape.
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    Give him other climbing options. Cats love to climb, mostly because they enjoy being elevated off the ground. It's possible that the kitchen counters are the highest "perch" your cat can reach. Give him other climbing options, like a cat "condo," which you can set up anywhere in the house and offer your cat a satisfying climbing and perching experience.[38]
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    Keep the cat out. If your cat insists on climbing up on the counters whenever you are preparing food in the kitchen, keep your cat confined in a bedroom or bathroom, if at all possible. This will keep him from climbing and interfering with your kitchen plans. Let your cat out of confinement once you're finished cooking/preparing food.[39]

Method 5
Training a Cat to Do Tricks

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    Use delicious treats. Training a cat is slightly different from training a dog. A dog will learn tricks because he wants to please you; to train a cat, you need to respect his or her independence and provide enticing reasons for the cat to obey you. Pellets of dry cat food aren't going to work, and neither is excessive praise, which cats are less interested in than dogs. The trick is to use high-quality treats that your cat will desire, like catnip, pieces of fresh chicken, or tuna.[40]
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    Make sure your cat is engaged. Before you begin trying to teach your cat a new trick, make sure he is aware that you're trying to teach him something.
    • Hold the treat in front of your cat's nose so he understands that there is a potential reward waiting for him.
    • Slowly move the treat in your hand over and behind his head. Continue to do this until your cat tips his head up and sits down on his bottom.
    • Praise your cat and give him the treat as soon as he completes the "trick" of sitting down.
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    Try using a clicker. If you don't have a clicker, you can use a retractable pen to make a similar noise.[41] Give your cat a treat each time you use the clicker, so that he will come to associate the sound with getting a treat. Then use the clicker and a reward every time your cat accomplishes a new trick, like chasing a stick when you throw it. Eventually your cat will respond every time you throw the stick and click the clicker.[42]
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    Keep training and play sessions short. Remember that your cat will get tired out. Aim for training and play sessions that run about 15 minutes, once or twice every day.[43]
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    Respect your cat. As a cat owner, you are probably aware of your cat's unique personality traits and independent nature. Never try to force a cat to do a trick he or she doesn't want to do. Some cats will happily learn to use the toilet and flush it afterward, or perch on your shoulder while you walk around the house, while others prefer not to be bothered or touched. Learn to coexist with your cat so that you're both getting something out of the relationship.


  • Be careful not to excessively give your cat/kitten treats. Doing so will cause them to become overly accustomed to treats, rendering them useless as rewards. Eating too many treats may also cause your cat to become overweight, which can be a serious health issue.
  • It is easiest to train a kitten, but it is possible to train an adult cat.
  • Get treats your cats love.
  • After your cat has done something you like, remember to praise him and give him a treat!

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Categories: Cat Training