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Look at Behavior Problems From Your Cat’s Point of View

Many people are surprised when they find out I’m a cat behavior consultant. The idea that cats can be trained is still a strange concept to them. Actually, I think cats are exceptionally easy to train. Yes, you read correctly. I said they’re exceptionally easy to train.

The mistake I see most often made when it comes to training is that people assume the behavior displayed is bad or being done out of spite. The first key in successful cat training is to understand there are no “bad” behaviors. Everything behavior displayed makes sense to your cat. I understand that particular behavior may not be acceptable to you but it’s important to realize the cat’s motivation isn’t based on spite or trying to get you mad. Cats are very smart and they wouldn’t repeat behaviors unless there was a pay-off. For example, you think it’s bad behavior when the cat bites you but let’s look at it from the cat’s point of view. The cat may have learned from previous experience that biting is the only way to stop you from doing something he doesn’t want. When he bites, you pull your hand away and that becomes the “pay-off” for him. Maybe you pet him in a way he doesn’t like or maybe you’re holding him when he has already given body language signals saying he’d like to be put back down on the floor. If he learns the only way you pay attention is when he bites, then he’ll repeat that behavior.

Let’s look at how we could change the circumstances in the above example so the cat would no longer feel the need to bite. First, examine your behavior to see what might be triggering the cat to bite:

  • Did you just come from behind and scoop him up in your arms and startle him?
  • Did you pick him up and hold him in a position that’s uncomfortable?
  • Maybe you held him on his back and he doesn’t like having his stomach exposed.
  • Maybe you held him too long.
  • Did you miss some communication clues he had sent out?

To change the circumstances, see what happens when you:

  • Casually come up to him and announce your presence.
  • Carefully pick him up, being mindful about supporting his hindquarters.
  • Only hold him for a few seconds and then put him back down on the floor.
  • Give him a treat when you place him back down.

Just by slightly changing your own behavior, you’re starting to change the way he feels about being held. Soon, he’ll realize there’s no reason to bite.

In general, with any training problem you may be dealing with when it comes to your cat, take a step back and look at the situation through his eyes. Examine the circumstances and the environment from your cat’s point of view so you can find the true cause of the behavior. This applies to every aspect of training and behavior. If you base your training and behavior correction on the belief the cat is acting spiteful, willfully disobedient or just plain stupid, you’ll never succeed in training.

Here’s the secret formula in a nutshell:

  1. Figure out why the cat is engaging in the behavior (i.e., what’s the pay-off for the cat?)
  2. What do you want the cat to do instead?
  3. Create an alternative option for the behavior
  4. Reward the cat for doing it correctly
With just a little tweaking in terms of how you view your cat’s behavior, you’ll discover how easy it is to train a cat using a method that strengthens rather than destroys the human/animal bond.

Pam Johnson-Bennett
About Pam Johnson-Bennett

Pam Johnson-Bennett is the host of Animal Planet UK's PSYCHO KITTY, She is a certified cat behavior consultant and the best-selling author of nine books, including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. For over 25 years, her books have been called cat bibles by veterinarians, behavior experts, shelters and cat parents worldwide. She is the former vice president of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the founder of the IAABC Cat Division. Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN. Visit her website at and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.