Yes, it really is possible to train a cat. In fact, the staff at the Brown County Humane Society works on this every day as part of an ongoing effort which focuses on fun, positive-reinforcement training sessions that teach cats certain tricks to help them connect with potential adopters.
While teaching cats tricks is fun, what most people are actually looking for is help with general behavior problems: How to train the cat to use the litter box or stop scratching the furniture. The first thing to remember is that cats behave as a result of instinct and need. They scratch to stretch their muscles and mark their territory. They avoid their litter box because there is a problem with the size or location or litter or type of box. They jump on the counter because they are curious or bored and it gets your attention.
There is a lot of information available online about how to solve specific behavior issues with cats, but regardless of which behavior you’re addressing, these guidelines are helpful to consider:
Reward, Don’t Punish: Using positive rewards for good behavior has been shown to be more effective (and humane) than punishing unwanted behavior. Yelling, hitting, or even squirting with a water bottle, only teaches your cat to be afraid. They may even become afraid of you and begin to withdraw or even become aggressive. Instead of punishing for scratching the furniture, provide plenty of things that they are allowed to scratch and reward them when they do. Rewards can include treats, affection, and praise.
Be Patient: Any type of training takes commitment and time. You must be willing to give your cat the time she needs to learn and process what you are teaching and you need to be consistent with your instruction. Think of it like learning a new language.
Have Fun: Rather than focusing on the negative aspects of stopping an undesirable behavior, focus on the challenge of encouraging a desired behavior. Many times, unwanted behaviors are simply the result of boredom. Make sure your cat has plenty of interesting toys and activities and try to spend at least 15 minutes a day playing with her, especially if she doesn’t generally play on her own. Look at it as a way to bond with your cat. The more positive activity your cat gets, the better.
Consider Medical Issues: Of course, some behaviors are the result of medical problems. If your cat is avoiding his litter box, it could be due to pain from urinary crystals. If your cat is meowing constantly, it could be due to hyperthyroidism. If the behavior is new or comes on suddenly, or other solutions don’t seem to be resolving the problem, it may be a good idea to schedule a visit to your veterinarian for a check up.
When we bring a cat into our home, he becomes part of the family. It is us to us to help him find positive ways to express himself in a way that fits.