At some time or another even the sweetest cat “misbehaves.” Ironically, a cat’s bad act is usually quite normal behavior for her, but may have a result humans don’t like or want. Screaming at the cat or physically punishing her won’t alter negative behavior. The best way to change undesirable behavior is to eliminate the opportunity and/or distract the cat to an acceptable alternative.
Immediacy is vital: even seconds late may be ineffective. You must do it as soon as the cat starts misbehaving.
Distracting a cat away from an act is not very difficult. A loud, unfamiliar noise will quickly get her attention. Some cat owners use a low growling sound, others imitate the grating sound of a game show buzzer. Keeping the sound low-toned and harsh is important, because you want to save high-pitched sounds for praise and reinforcement of positive behaviors.
One well-known way to distract a misbehaving cat is to give her a blast with a spray bottle. While this works, it has some drawbacks. First, you must have the bottle in your hand at the exact moment the cat is about to act in a way you want to discourage. Unless you follow your cat around all day with a spray bottle in your hand, this is unlikely to happen. The second problem is that this technique seems to lose effectiveness after a while with some cats.
The best way to extinguish negative behaviors is to remove the opportunity. If your cat obsessively scratches the side of your couch, place a loose blanket or hard acrylic panel against it. Both techniques remove her access to the satisfying feel of the fabric. If she climbs your curtains, shredding them as she goes, fold or pin them out of her reach unless you are around to stop her. If she has accidents only when you are not home, only give her free run of the house when you are there. When you go out, close her in a room with food, water, litter box, scratching post and a couple of toys.
Avoid, at all times, any form of physical punishment. It doesn’t matter if your vet or the “cat expert” down the street suggests it; physically punishing your cat will do more harm than good. Some people feel that a “little” tap on the cat’s nose with your finger is an acceptable form of punishment because you are only using one finger. Humane group experts point out, however, that if you look at that finger in proportion to a cat’s nose – a very sensitive body part – it would be like someone hitting you on the nose with a rolling pin.
You can try gently pushing the palm of your hand into the face of the cat. This is best used when discouraging something like biting. Don’t hit the cat, simply push its face back gently.
Inflicting pain has a negative affect on your relationship with your cat. Even the most outgoing cat will back away from your hands, even if they are only reaching out to pet her. If your cat is shy to begin with, physical punishment can have even more deeply negative results.
Keep in mind, too, what you are communicating when you swat your cat. Swatting is one of the main ways cats fight with one another. When you swing your hand at your cat, she very well may take it as a challenge to fight. Constantly provoking her can create a serious aggression problem.