6 Effective Techniques for Gently Disciplining Your Cat

Author: K. Marie Altoby K Marie Alto Updated 32 min read

6 Effective Techniques for Gently Disciplining Your Cat

Many people have an impression of cats as aloof, independent, free-thinking creatures that only listen to you as their parent when they feel like it. And sure, they're not all that likely to come when called, and it's pretty rare that you can teach them command-based tricks like playing dead or rolling over. But that doesn't mean they can't be trained. In fact, training a cat – from litter box training to staying off the counters in the kitchen – is a critical part of ensuring you have a lovable, well-behaved, and safe furball in your home.

A key part of training is discipline, and while most training should be using positive reinforcement, there's room for discouragement as well. The trick is, you need to do it right. There are a lot of wrongways to try to discipline a cat, many of which will stress out your fur baby, leading to worse behavior and even health problems.

So, how do you discipline a cat firmly enough to reinforce the right behaviors and discourage the wrong ones but gentle enough to avoid damaging your relationship, discouraging the wrong things, or stressing them out? Here are half a dozen tips and techniques I've pulled from my own experience and plenty of cat training resources.

How NOT to Discipline a Cat

First, let's start with what NOT to do.

First of all, no yelling, screaming, shouting, or lecturing your cat. Your cat is not a human, and as much as they are a beloved member of your family, they are not cognitively capable of understanding pretty much anything you say. They don't have language! When a cat (or a dog, or pretty much any other animal) responds to commands, it's not because they know what the words mean. It's because they recognize a pattern of sounds and associate it with a desired behavior – even if that behavior is "stop."

Don't get me wrong, it can be fun to lightheartedly lecture your cat, but you have to know it's meaningless for the cat. It's just cathartic for you. Screaming or yelling, though, that's right out. Shouting stresses out your poor fur baby, and that's not going to help anything.

How Not to Discipline a Cat Image by Toe Beans

Second, never try to get physical with your cat. For one thing, a swat or slap or shake or anything else isn't going to create the kind of association you want to create. Instead, it's just going to make your cat wary of you, or even scared of you, or scared of people in general. Worse, if your cat really isn't going to take it, well, only one of you has knives attached to your fingers, and it isn't you. Trust me; they win.

You also want to avoid things like spraying your cat with water, using a loud noise, or other kind of deterrent. There are two reasons for this. First, you need to do it every timeyour cat performs the behavior, and since you need to do things like go to work or sleep, you won't be around to catch every possible chance. Second, it associates the negative stimulus with you, not with the location or item they were messing with. You don't want your fur baby to be afraid of you, right?

You also want to make sure you aren't accidentally reinforcing bad behaviors. For example, if your cat comes to you in bed and wakes you up whining, if you get up and feed them or play with them, then guess what? You've just trained them that, if they want food or entertainment at 4am, they can wake you up and get it.

Finally, don't forget to be consistent. Training requires consistency until the behavior is engrained, which is the only way you can get it to stick. If you're trying to dissuade them from a behavior you aren't always around to witness, find some way to handle it when you can't be there to do it.

Now, let's move on to the ways to discipline a cat effectively.

1: Learn What Reinforcement Means

First of all, it's worth knowing what reinforcement is. In behavior analysis and psychology, there's a four-quadrant grid for training. You have Reinforcement versus Punishment, and you have Positive versus Negative.

  • Positive Reinforcement: Adding something pleasant or beneficial to encourage a desired behavior.
  • Positive Punishment: Adding something unpleasant or detrimental to discourage a desired behavior.
  • Negative Reinforcement: Removing something unpleasant or detrimental to encourage a desired behavior.
  • Negative Punishment: Removing something pleasant or beneficial to discourage a desired behavior.

Most of these only work when you're using them on a being capable of the higher levels of thought necessary to draw disconnected conclusions.

Cat Behavior Reinforcement Image by Toe Beans

Positive Punishment, also simply called punishment, doesn't work on animals because they tend to learn the wrong things from it; all they know is that they're having something unpleasant happen to them, and they react accordingly. Hitting a misbehaving dog, spraying a cat with a water bottle, and other forms of punishment are ineffective.

Negative Reinforcement can work, but it isn't ideal. For example, you might have an unpleasant buzzing noise throughout your house that turns off when your cat does what they're supposed to. They'll learn how to do that to remove the noise, but while the noise is around, they'll be increasingly stressed out. This is an effective method for animal handling professionals to capture or socialize stray and feral cats, but it's not appropriate for home training.

Negative Punishment, meanwhile, is the removal of something nice to punish your cat for their misdeeds. This works on children because they're capable of understanding something like "because you got in a fight, you don't get dessert tonight." The abstract disconnect between punishment and cause doesn't work on animals, who don't have that kind of reasoning. This can work in certain circumstances, such as ending playtime if your cat bites you during play. It's of very limited use, however.

All of this leaves you with one option: positive reinforcement. In other words, you aren't punishing the bad behavior; you're being vigilant and rewarding when your cat stops the behavior. I've written about this concept before in training a cat not to scratch the furniture, which you can read about here.

2: Keep High-Value Treats on Hand

Since you're using a positive reinforcement method, you need something that is valuable enough to be an encouragement, and that usually means high-value treats. Whether it's a few licks of one of those pouches of tasty goo, a single small bit of tasty meat, or specially designed cat treats, you need something they'll pay attention to and associate as a reward.

It's important to keep some of these on hand when you're trying to reward behaviors. The longer a delay there is between behavior and treat, the less likely your cat is to associate the two, so the less effective it's going to be.

Keep High Value Treats on Hand Image by Toe Beans

Note that the reward doesn't haveto be a dedicated cat treat. A crunchy bit of treat works fine for some cats, but other cats aren't as motivated by it. Maybe a piece of shrimp, a bit of canned cheese, or even a new and interesting (or catnip-infused) toy will be a better option. Learn what your cat likes and use that.

3: Try Mat Training

Mat training is a combination of clicker and reward based on a specific location. You have a "mat" (which can be a small rug, a specific bit of box, or just a designated spot in the room) and a clicker that makes a specific noise used for training. Here's a video demonstration.

Your first goal is to train your cat to associate the mat with a treat and the clicker with both the mat and the treat. Basically, go stand near the mat location. Encourage your cat to come over and, when they're in the right spot, give them a treat. When you give them the treat, use the clicker so the noise is always there in mind when they're in that spot and have a treat.

Cat Mat Training Image by Toe Beans

The first goal is to get to the point where you can click the clicker, and your cat will head to the mat for a treat. Don't give them the treat anywhere else; it's specifically about that location. Also, don't give them a treat just for going there; make sure it's in response to the clicker.

Once they're trained this way, you can use the clicker to discourage a behavior you don't like. When your cat is, for example, about to scratch the furniture or jump up on the counters, use the click and give them the treat when they abandon their original plan for the treat. If you do this every time they're about to engage in a behavior you don't like, they'll eventually stop.

4: Line Counters with Foil

A good way to deter cats from behaviors like jumping up on the counters is to line the counters with aluminum foil. When they jump up, several things happen. First, they see motion (their own reflection) that they didn't expect, which startles them. When they land, the unexpected texture and sudden noise of landing on foil disrupts them and usually scares them off the counter. You can see it in action all over the internet in videos like this one. Of course, as you can see in that video, it doesn't always work. Make sure you're only using it for this specific kind of behavior, and don't use it on the floor to randomly prank your cat. This makes it less effective.

A Cat Stepping on Foil Image by Toe Beans

Make sure you have a cat tree or other places they canperch nearby. Cats like to be up high and able to observe, and discouraging them from allhigh places likely won't work.

5: Put Double-Sided Tape on Furniture

Another way to discourage a specific behavior is to put double-sided tape on pieces of furniture your fur baby is likely to try to scratch. When they reach up to scratch, their paws will end up on the sticky tape, and they'll pull back, unhappy with it.

Put Double-Sided Tape on Furniture Image by Toe Beans

Make sure you have a good, solid scratching post nearby for them to use. Cats are goingto scratch, it's part of their nature and is just something cat parents need to deal with. Your goal is to redirect it, not prevent it.

6: Consider a Motion Air Sprayer

Motion-activated air sprayers detect motion and release a brief jet of air. That's all they do. They aren't aimed at the cat – and indeed, you should position them so it can't.

A Motion Air Sprayer Image by Toe Beans

The goal is the noise of the hiss of air resembles a warning hiss from another cat or animal and will startle and dissuade your cat from whatever they were doing. These are best used as another form of countertop deterrent and not as anything manual.

Learn the Root Cause of Bad Behaviors

One thing to consider, as well, is that many bad behaviors are not caused by your cat wanting to lash out or spite you or just to cause trouble; they have other root causes. For example:

  • Maybe your cat is opting to scratch the furniture because, when they try to scratch their scratching post, it wobbles. Or maybe the scratching post is splintered, and they've hurt their paws on it before.
  • Maybe your cat is jumping on the counters because it's the highest place they can get to, and they don't have anywhere else they can go to survey their domain.
  • Maybe your cat is missing the litter box because it's full and dirty, or another cat is bullying them and using it as their territory.
  • Maybe your cat is missing the litter box because they're sick and stressed and can't help themselves. UTIs, stomach bugs, parasites, and other infections can all cause litter issues.

In these cases, all of the training in the world is unlikely to help because it doesn't solve the root issue. You need to pay attention to the behaviors themselves and think about why they're happening so you can solve the root issue for a happier, healthier fur baby.

Learning the Root Cause of Bad Behaviors Image by Toe Beans

Training a cat is all about working with them to encourage the behaviors you want to see and distract or redirect them from the behaviors you don't. It takes time, dedication, and consistency, but it canbe done. Trust me, your fur baby will thank you!

After reading today's article, did you have any questions? As always, I'm more than happy to help fellow pet parents however I can, so be sure to leave your questions in the comments section down below!

Many people have an impression of cats as aloof, independent, free-thinking creatures that only listen to you as their parent when they feel like it. And sure, they're not all that likely to come when called, and it's pretty rare that you can teach them command-based tricks like playing dead or rolling over. But that doesn't mean they can't be trained. In fact, training a cat – from litter box training to staying off the counters in the kitchen – is a critical part of ensuring you have a lovable, well-behaved, and safe furball in your home.

A key part of training is discipline, and while most training should be using positive reinforcement, there's room for discouragement as well. The trick is, you need to do it right. There are a lot of wrongways to try to discipline a cat, many of which will stress out your fur baby, leading to worse behavior and even health problems.

So, how do you discipline a cat firmly enough to reinforce the right behaviors and discourage the wrong ones but gentle enough to avoid damaging your relationship, discouraging the wrong things, or stressing them out? Here are half a dozen tips and techniques I've pulled from my own experience and plenty of cat training resources.

How NOT to Discipline a Cat

First, let's start with what NOT to do.

First of all, no yelling, screaming, shouting, or lecturing your cat. Your cat is not a human, and as much as they are a beloved member of your family, they are not cognitively capable of understanding pretty much anything you say. They don't have language! When a cat (or a dog, or pretty much any other animal) responds to commands, it's not because they know what the words mean. It's because they recognize a pattern of sounds and associate it with a desired behavior – even if that behavior is "stop."

Don't get me wrong, it can be fun to lightheartedly lecture your cat, but you have to know it's meaningless for the cat. It's just cathartic for you. Screaming or yelling, though, that's right out. Shouting stresses out your poor fur baby, and that's not going to help anything.

How Not to Discipline a Cat Image by Toe Beans

Second, never try to get physical with your cat. For one thing, a swat or slap or shake or anything else isn't going to create the kind of association you want to create. Instead, it's just going to make your cat wary of you, or even scared of you, or scared of people in general. Worse, if your cat really isn't going to take it, well, only one of you has knives attached to your fingers, and it isn't you. Trust me; they win.

You also want to avoid things like spraying your cat with water, using a loud noise, or other kind of deterrent. There are two reasons for this. First, you need to do it every timeyour cat performs the behavior, and since you need to do things like go to work or sleep, you won't be around to catch every possible chance. Second, it associates the negative stimulus with you, not with the location or item they were messing with. You don't want your fur baby to be afraid of you, right?

You also want to make sure you aren't accidentally reinforcing bad behaviors. For example, if your cat comes to you in bed and wakes you up whining, if you get up and feed them or play with them, then guess what? You've just trained them that, if they want food or entertainment at 4am, they can wake you up and get it.

Finally, don't forget to be consistent. Training requires consistency until the behavior is engrained, which is the only way you can get it to stick. If you're trying to dissuade them from a behavior you aren't always around to witness, find some way to handle it when you can't be there to do it.

Now, let's move on to the ways to discipline a cat effectively.

1: Learn What Reinforcement Means

First of all, it's worth knowing what reinforcement is. In behavior analysis and psychology, there's a four-quadrant grid for training. You have Reinforcement versus Punishment, and you have Positive versus Negative.

  • Positive Reinforcement: Adding something pleasant or beneficial to encourage a desired behavior.
  • Positive Punishment: Adding something unpleasant or detrimental to discourage a desired behavior.
  • Negative Reinforcement: Removing something unpleasant or detrimental to encourage a desired behavior.
  • Negative Punishment: Removing something pleasant or beneficial to discourage a desired behavior.

Most of these only work when you're using them on a being capable of the higher levels of thought necessary to draw disconnected conclusions.

Cat Behavior Reinforcement Image by Toe Beans

Positive Punishment, also simply called punishment, doesn't work on animals because they tend to learn the wrong things from it; all they know is that they're having something unpleasant happen to them, and they react accordingly. Hitting a misbehaving dog, spraying a cat with a water bottle, and other forms of punishment are ineffective.

Negative Reinforcement can work, but it isn't ideal. For example, you might have an unpleasant buzzing noise throughout your house that turns off when your cat does what they're supposed to. They'll learn how to do that to remove the noise, but while the noise is around, they'll be increasingly stressed out. This is an effective method for animal handling professionals to capture or socialize stray and feral cats, but it's not appropriate for home training.

Negative Punishment, meanwhile, is the removal of something nice to punish your cat for their misdeeds. This works on children because they're capable of understanding something like "because you got in a fight, you don't get dessert tonight." The abstract disconnect between punishment and cause doesn't work on animals, who don't have that kind of reasoning. This can work in certain circumstances, such as ending playtime if your cat bites you during play. It's of very limited use, however.

All of this leaves you with one option: positive reinforcement. In other words, you aren't punishing the bad behavior; you're being vigilant and rewarding when your cat stops the behavior. I've written about this concept before in training a cat not to scratch the furniture, which you can read about here.

2: Keep High-Value Treats on Hand

Since you're using a positive reinforcement method, you need something that is valuable enough to be an encouragement, and that usually means high-value treats. Whether it's a few licks of one of those pouches of tasty goo, a single small bit of tasty meat, or specially designed cat treats, you need something they'll pay attention to and associate as a reward.

It's important to keep some of these on hand when you're trying to reward behaviors. The longer a delay there is between behavior and treat, the less likely your cat is to associate the two, so the less effective it's going to be.

Keep High Value Treats on Hand Image by Toe Beans

Note that the reward doesn't haveto be a dedicated cat treat. A crunchy bit of treat works fine for some cats, but other cats aren't as motivated by it. Maybe a piece of shrimp, a bit of canned cheese, or even a new and interesting (or catnip-infused) toy will be a better option. Learn what your cat likes and use that.

3: Try Mat Training

Mat training is a combination of clicker and reward based on a specific location. You have a "mat" (which can be a small rug, a specific bit of box, or just a designated spot in the room) and a clicker that makes a specific noise used for training. Here's a video demonstration.

Your first goal is to train your cat to associate the mat with a treat and the clicker with both the mat and the treat. Basically, go stand near the mat location. Encourage your cat to come over and, when they're in the right spot, give them a treat. When you give them the treat, use the clicker so the noise is always there in mind when they're in that spot and have a treat.

Cat Mat Training Image by Toe Beans

The first goal is to get to the point where you can click the clicker, and your cat will head to the mat for a treat. Don't give them the treat anywhere else; it's specifically about that location. Also, don't give them a treat just for going there; make sure it's in response to the clicker.

Once they're trained this way, you can use the clicker to discourage a behavior you don't like. When your cat is, for example, about to scratch the furniture or jump up on the counters, use the click and give them the treat when they abandon their original plan for the treat. If you do this every time they're about to engage in a behavior you don't like, they'll eventually stop.

4: Line Counters with Foil

A good way to deter cats from behaviors like jumping up on the counters is to line the counters with aluminum foil. When they jump up, several things happen. First, they see motion (their own reflection) that they didn't expect, which startles them. When they land, the unexpected texture and sudden noise of landing on foil disrupts them and usually scares them off the counter. You can see it in action all over the internet in videos like this one. Of course, as you can see in that video, it doesn't always work. Make sure you're only using it for this specific kind of behavior, and don't use it on the floor to randomly prank your cat. This makes it less effective.

A Cat Stepping on Foil Image by Toe Beans

Make sure you have a cat tree or other places they canperch nearby. Cats like to be up high and able to observe, and discouraging them from allhigh places likely won't work.

5: Put Double-Sided Tape on Furniture

Another way to discourage a specific behavior is to put double-sided tape on pieces of furniture your fur baby is likely to try to scratch. When they reach up to scratch, their paws will end up on the sticky tape, and they'll pull back, unhappy with it.

Put Double-Sided Tape on Furniture Image by Toe Beans

Make sure you have a good, solid scratching post nearby for them to use. Cats are goingto scratch, it's part of their nature and is just something cat parents need to deal with. Your goal is to redirect it, not prevent it.

6: Consider a Motion Air Sprayer

Motion-activated air sprayers detect motion and release a brief jet of air. That's all they do. They aren't aimed at the cat – and indeed, you should position them so it can't.

A Motion Air Sprayer Image by Toe Beans

The goal is the noise of the hiss of air resembles a warning hiss from another cat or animal and will startle and dissuade your cat from whatever they were doing. These are best used as another form of countertop deterrent and not as anything manual.

Learn the Root Cause of Bad Behaviors

One thing to consider, as well, is that many bad behaviors are not caused by your cat wanting to lash out or spite you or just to cause trouble; they have other root causes. For example:

  • Maybe your cat is opting to scratch the furniture because, when they try to scratch their scratching post, it wobbles. Or maybe the scratching post is splintered, and they've hurt their paws on it before.
  • Maybe your cat is jumping on the counters because it's the highest place they can get to, and they don't have anywhere else they can go to survey their domain.
  • Maybe your cat is missing the litter box because it's full and dirty, or another cat is bullying them and using it as their territory.
  • Maybe your cat is missing the litter box because they're sick and stressed and can't help themselves. UTIs, stomach bugs, parasites, and other infections can all cause litter issues.

In these cases, all of the training in the world is unlikely to help because it doesn't solve the root issue. You need to pay attention to the behaviors themselves and think about why they're happening so you can solve the root issue for a happier, healthier fur baby.

Learning the Root Cause of Bad Behaviors Image by Toe Beans

Training a cat is all about working with them to encourage the behaviors you want to see and distract or redirect them from the behaviors you don't. It takes time, dedication, and consistency, but it canbe done. Trust me, your fur baby will thank you!

After reading today's article, did you have any questions? As always, I'm more than happy to help fellow pet parents however I can, so be sure to leave your questions in the comments section down below!

Many people have an impression of cats as aloof, independent, free-thinking creatures that only listen to you as their parent when they feel like it. And sure, they're not all that likely to come when called, and it's pretty rare that you can teach them command-based tricks like playing dead or rolling over. But that doesn't mean they can't be trained. In fact, training a cat – from litter box training to staying off the counters in the kitchen – is a critical part of ensuring you have a lovable, well-behaved, and safe furball in your home.

A key part of training is discipline, and while most training should be using positive reinforcement, there's room for discouragement as well. The trick is, you need to do it right. There are a lot of wrongways to try to discipline a cat, many of which will stress out your fur baby, leading to worse behavior and even health problems.

So, how do you discipline a cat firmly enough to reinforce the right behaviors and discourage the wrong ones but gentle enough to avoid damaging your relationship, discouraging the wrong things, or stressing them out? Here are half a dozen tips and techniques I've pulled from my own experience and plenty of cat training resources.

How NOT to Discipline a Cat

First, let's start with what NOT to do.

First of all, no yelling, screaming, shouting, or lecturing your cat. Your cat is not a human, and as much as they are a beloved member of your family, they are not cognitively capable of understanding pretty much anything you say. They don't have language! When a cat (or a dog, or pretty much any other animal) responds to commands, it's not because they know what the words mean. It's because they recognize a pattern of sounds and associate it with a desired behavior – even if that behavior is "stop."

Don't get me wrong, it can be fun to lightheartedly lecture your cat, but you have to know it's meaningless for the cat. It's just cathartic for you. Screaming or yelling, though, that's right out. Shouting stresses out your poor fur baby, and that's not going to help anything.

How Not to Discipline a Cat Image by Toe Beans

Second, never try to get physical with your cat. For one thing, a swat or slap or shake or anything else isn't going to create the kind of association you want to create. Instead, it's just going to make your cat wary of you, or even scared of you, or scared of people in general. Worse, if your cat really isn't going to take it, well, only one of you has knives attached to your fingers, and it isn't you. Trust me; they win.

You also want to avoid things like spraying your cat with water, using a loud noise, or other kind of deterrent. There are two reasons for this. First, you need to do it every timeyour cat performs the behavior, and since you need to do things like go to work or sleep, you won't be around to catch every possible chance. Second, it associates the negative stimulus with you, not with the location or item they were messing with. You don't want your fur baby to be afraid of you, right?

You also want to make sure you aren't accidentally reinforcing bad behaviors. For example, if your cat comes to you in bed and wakes you up whining, if you get up and feed them or play with them, then guess what? You've just trained them that, if they want food or entertainment at 4am, they can wake you up and get it.

Finally, don't forget to be consistent. Training requires consistency until the behavior is engrained, which is the only way you can get it to stick. If you're trying to dissuade them from a behavior you aren't always around to witness, find some way to handle it when you can't be there to do it.

Now, let's move on to the ways to discipline a cat effectively.

1: Learn What Reinforcement Means

First of all, it's worth knowing what reinforcement is. In behavior analysis and psychology, there's a four-quadrant grid for training. You have Reinforcement versus Punishment, and you have Positive versus Negative.

  • Positive Reinforcement: Adding something pleasant or beneficial to encourage a desired behavior.
  • Positive Punishment: Adding something unpleasant or detrimental to discourage a desired behavior.
  • Negative Reinforcement: Removing something unpleasant or detrimental to encourage a desired behavior.
  • Negative Punishment: Removing something pleasant or beneficial to discourage a desired behavior.

Most of these only work when you're using them on a being capable of the higher levels of thought necessary to draw disconnected conclusions.

Cat Behavior Reinforcement Image by Toe Beans

Positive Punishment, also simply called punishment, doesn't work on animals because they tend to learn the wrong things from it; all they know is that they're having something unpleasant happen to them, and they react accordingly. Hitting a misbehaving dog, spraying a cat with a water bottle, and other forms of punishment are ineffective.

Negative Reinforcement can work, but it isn't ideal. For example, you might have an unpleasant buzzing noise throughout your house that turns off when your cat does what they're supposed to. They'll learn how to do that to remove the noise, but while the noise is around, they'll be increasingly stressed out. This is an effective method for animal handling professionals to capture or socialize stray and feral cats, but it's not appropriate for home training.

Negative Punishment, meanwhile, is the removal of something nice to punish your cat for their misdeeds. This works on children because they're capable of understanding something like "because you got in a fight, you don't get dessert tonight." The abstract disconnect between punishment and cause doesn't work on animals, who don't have that kind of reasoning. This can work in certain circumstances, such as ending playtime if your cat bites you during play. It's of very limited use, however.

All of this leaves you with one option: positive reinforcement. In other words, you aren't punishing the bad behavior; you're being vigilant and rewarding when your cat stops the behavior. I've written about this concept before in training a cat not to scratch the furniture, which you can read about here.

2: Keep High-Value Treats on Hand

Since you're using a positive reinforcement method, you need something that is valuable enough to be an encouragement, and that usually means high-value treats. Whether it's a few licks of one of those pouches of tasty goo, a single small bit of tasty meat, or specially designed cat treats, you need something they'll pay attention to and associate as a reward.

It's important to keep some of these on hand when you're trying to reward behaviors. The longer a delay there is between behavior and treat, the less likely your cat is to associate the two, so the less effective it's going to be.

Keep High Value Treats on Hand Image by Toe Beans

Note that the reward doesn't haveto be a dedicated cat treat. A crunchy bit of treat works fine for some cats, but other cats aren't as motivated by it. Maybe a piece of shrimp, a bit of canned cheese, or even a new and interesting (or catnip-infused) toy will be a better option. Learn what your cat likes and use that.

3: Try Mat Training

Mat training is a combination of clicker and reward based on a specific location. You have a "mat" (which can be a small rug, a specific bit of box, or just a designated spot in the room) and a clicker that makes a specific noise used for training. Here's a video demonstration.

Your first goal is to train your cat to associate the mat with a treat and the clicker with both the mat and the treat. Basically, go stand near the mat location. Encourage your cat to come over and, when they're in the right spot, give them a treat. When you give them the treat, use the clicker so the noise is always there in mind when they're in that spot and have a treat.

Cat Mat Training Image by Toe Beans

The first goal is to get to the point where you can click the clicker, and your cat will head to the mat for a treat. Don't give them the treat anywhere else; it's specifically about that location. Also, don't give them a treat just for going there; make sure it's in response to the clicker.

Once they're trained this way, you can use the clicker to discourage a behavior you don't like. When your cat is, for example, about to scratch the furniture or jump up on the counters, use the click and give them the treat when they abandon their original plan for the treat. If you do this every time they're about to engage in a behavior you don't like, they'll eventually stop.

4: Line Counters with Foil

A good way to deter cats from behaviors like jumping up on the counters is to line the counters with aluminum foil. When they jump up, several things happen. First, they see motion (their own reflection) that they didn't expect, which startles them. When they land, the unexpected texture and sudden noise of landing on foil disrupts them and usually scares them off the counter. You can see it in action all over the internet in videos like this one. Of course, as you can see in that video, it doesn't always work. Make sure you're only using it for this specific kind of behavior, and don't use it on the floor to randomly prank your cat. This makes it less effective.

A Cat Stepping on Foil Image by Toe Beans

Make sure you have a cat tree or other places they canperch nearby. Cats like to be up high and able to observe, and discouraging them from allhigh places likely won't work.

5: Put Double-Sided Tape on Furniture

Another way to discourage a specific behavior is to put double-sided tape on pieces of furniture your fur baby is likely to try to scratch. When they reach up to scratch, their paws will end up on the sticky tape, and they'll pull back, unhappy with it.

Put Double-Sided Tape on Furniture Image by Toe Beans

Make sure you have a good, solid scratching post nearby for them to use. Cats are goingto scratch, it's part of their nature and is just something cat parents need to deal with. Your goal is to redirect it, not prevent it.

6: Consider a Motion Air Sprayer

Motion-activated air sprayers detect motion and release a brief jet of air. That's all they do. They aren't aimed at the cat – and indeed, you should position them so it can't.

A Motion Air Sprayer Image by Toe Beans

The goal is the noise of the hiss of air resembles a warning hiss from another cat or animal and will startle and dissuade your cat from whatever they were doing. These are best used as another form of countertop deterrent and not as anything manual.

Learn the Root Cause of Bad Behaviors

One thing to consider, as well, is that many bad behaviors are not caused by your cat wanting to lash out or spite you or just to cause trouble; they have other root causes. For example:

  • Maybe your cat is opting to scratch the furniture because, when they try to scratch their scratching post, it wobbles. Or maybe the scratching post is splintered, and they've hurt their paws on it before.
  • Maybe your cat is jumping on the counters because it's the highest place they can get to, and they don't have anywhere else they can go to survey their domain.
  • Maybe your cat is missing the litter box because it's full and dirty, or another cat is bullying them and using it as their territory.
  • Maybe your cat is missing the litter box because they're sick and stressed and can't help themselves. UTIs, stomach bugs, parasites, and other infections can all cause litter issues.

In these cases, all of the training in the world is unlikely to help because it doesn't solve the root issue. You need to pay attention to the behaviors themselves and think about why they're happening so you can solve the root issue for a happier, healthier fur baby.

Learning the Root Cause of Bad Behaviors Image by Toe Beans

Training a cat is all about working with them to encourage the behaviors you want to see and distract or redirect them from the behaviors you don't. It takes time, dedication, and consistency, but it canbe done. Trust me, your fur baby will thank you!

After reading today's article, did you have any questions? As always, I'm more than happy to help fellow pet parents however I can, so be sure to leave your questions in the comments section down below!

Many people have an impression of cats as aloof, independent, free-thinking creatures that only listen to you as their parent when they feel like it. And sure, they're not all that likely to come when called, and it's pretty rare that you can teach them command-based tricks like playing dead or rolling over. But that doesn't mean they can't be trained. In fact, training a cat – from litter box training to staying off the counters in the kitchen – is a critical part of ensuring you have a lovable, well-behaved, and safe furball in your home.

A key part of training is discipline, and while most training should be using positive reinforcement, there's room for discouragement as well. The trick is, you need to do it right. There are a lot of wrongways to try to discipline a cat, many of which will stress out your fur baby, leading to worse behavior and even health problems.

So, how do you discipline a cat firmly enough to reinforce the right behaviors and discourage the wrong ones but gentle enough to avoid damaging your relationship, discouraging the wrong things, or stressing them out? Here are half a dozen tips and techniques I've pulled from my own experience and plenty of cat training resources.

How NOT to Discipline a Cat

First, let's start with what NOT to do.

First of all, no yelling, screaming, shouting, or lecturing your cat. Your cat is not a human, and as much as they are a beloved member of your family, they are not cognitively capable of understanding pretty much anything you say. They don't have language! When a cat (or a dog, or pretty much any other animal) responds to commands, it's not because they know what the words mean. It's because they recognize a pattern of sounds and associate it with a desired behavior – even if that behavior is "stop."

Don't get me wrong, it can be fun to lightheartedly lecture your cat, but you have to know it's meaningless for the cat. It's just cathartic for you. Screaming or yelling, though, that's right out. Shouting stresses out your poor fur baby, and that's not going to help anything.

How Not to Discipline a Cat Image by Toe Beans

Second, never try to get physical with your cat. For one thing, a swat or slap or shake or anything else isn't going to create the kind of association you want to create. Instead, it's just going to make your cat wary of you, or even scared of you, or scared of people in general. Worse, if your cat really isn't going to take it, well, only one of you has knives attached to your fingers, and it isn't you. Trust me; they win.

You also want to avoid things like spraying your cat with water, using a loud noise, or other kind of deterrent. There are two reasons for this. First, you need to do it every timeyour cat performs the behavior, and since you need to do things like go to work or sleep, you won't be around to catch every possible chance. Second, it associates the negative stimulus with you, not with the location or item they were messing with. You don't want your fur baby to be afraid of you, right?

You also want to make sure you aren't accidentally reinforcing bad behaviors. For example, if your cat comes to you in bed and wakes you up whining, if you get up and feed them or play with them, then guess what? You've just trained them that, if they want food or entertainment at 4am, they can wake you up and get it.

Finally, don't forget to be consistent. Training requires consistency until the behavior is engrained, which is the only way you can get it to stick. If you're trying to dissuade them from a behavior you aren't always around to witness, find some way to handle it when you can't be there to do it.

Now, let's move on to the ways to discipline a cat effectively.

1: Learn What Reinforcement Means

First of all, it's worth knowing what reinforcement is. In behavior analysis and psychology, there's a four-quadrant grid for training. You have Reinforcement versus Punishment, and you have Positive versus Negative.

  • Positive Reinforcement: Adding something pleasant or beneficial to encourage a desired behavior.
  • Positive Punishment: Adding something unpleasant or detrimental to discourage a desired behavior.
  • Negative Reinforcement: Removing something unpleasant or detrimental to encourage a desired behavior.
  • Negative Punishment: Removing something pleasant or beneficial to discourage a desired behavior.

Most of these only work when you're using them on a being capable of the higher levels of thought necessary to draw disconnected conclusions.

Cat Behavior Reinforcement Image by Toe Beans

Positive Punishment, also simply called punishment, doesn't work on animals because they tend to learn the wrong things from it; all they know is that they're having something unpleasant happen to them, and they react accordingly. Hitting a misbehaving dog, spraying a cat with a water bottle, and other forms of punishment are ineffective.

Negative Reinforcement can work, but it isn't ideal. For example, you might have an unpleasant buzzing noise throughout your house that turns off when your cat does what they're supposed to. They'll learn how to do that to remove the noise, but while the noise is around, they'll be increasingly stressed out. This is an effective method for animal handling professionals to capture or socialize stray and feral cats, but it's not appropriate for home training.

Negative Punishment, meanwhile, is the removal of something nice to punish your cat for their misdeeds. This works on children because they're capable of understanding something like "because you got in a fight, you don't get dessert tonight." The abstract disconnect between punishment and cause doesn't work on animals, who don't have that kind of reasoning. This can work in certain circumstances, such as ending playtime if your cat bites you during play. It's of very limited use, however.

All of this leaves you with one option: positive reinforcement. In other words, you aren't punishing the bad behavior; you're being vigilant and rewarding when your cat stops the behavior. I've written about this concept before in training a cat not to scratch the furniture, which you can read about here.

2: Keep High-Value Treats on Hand

Since you're using a positive reinforcement method, you need something that is valuable enough to be an encouragement, and that usually means high-value treats. Whether it's a few licks of one of those pouches of tasty goo, a single small bit of tasty meat, or specially designed cat treats, you need something they'll pay attention to and associate as a reward.

It's important to keep some of these on hand when you're trying to reward behaviors. The longer a delay there is between behavior and treat, the less likely your cat is to associate the two, so the less effective it's going to be.

Keep High Value Treats on Hand Image by Toe Beans

Note that the reward doesn't haveto be a dedicated cat treat. A crunchy bit of treat works fine for some cats, but other cats aren't as motivated by it. Maybe a piece of shrimp, a bit of canned cheese, or even a new and interesting (or catnip-infused) toy will be a better option. Learn what your cat likes and use that.

3: Try Mat Training

Mat training is a combination of clicker and reward based on a specific location. You have a "mat" (which can be a small rug, a specific bit of box, or just a designated spot in the room) and a clicker that makes a specific noise used for training. Here's a video demonstration.

Your first goal is to train your cat to associate the mat with a treat and the clicker with both the mat and the treat. Basically, go stand near the mat location. Encourage your cat to come over and, when they're in the right spot, give them a treat. When you give them the treat, use the clicker so the noise is always there in mind when they're in that spot and have a treat.

Cat Mat Training Image by Toe Beans

The first goal is to get to the point where you can click the clicker, and your cat will head to the mat for a treat. Don't give them the treat anywhere else; it's specifically about that location. Also, don't give them a treat just for going there; make sure it's in response to the clicker.

Once they're trained this way, you can use the clicker to discourage a behavior you don't like. When your cat is, for example, about to scratch the furniture or jump up on the counters, use the click and give them the treat when they abandon their original plan for the treat. If you do this every time they're about to engage in a behavior you don't like, they'll eventually stop.

4: Line Counters with Foil

A good way to deter cats from behaviors like jumping up on the counters is to line the counters with aluminum foil. When they jump up, several things happen. First, they see motion (their own reflection) that they didn't expect, which startles them. When they land, the unexpected texture and sudden noise of landing on foil disrupts them and usually scares them off the counter. You can see it in action all over the internet in videos like this one. Of course, as you can see in that video, it doesn't always work. Make sure you're only using it for this specific kind of behavior, and don't use it on the floor to randomly prank your cat. This makes it less effective.

A Cat Stepping on Foil Image by Toe Beans

Make sure you have a cat tree or other places they canperch nearby. Cats like to be up high and able to observe, and discouraging them from allhigh places likely won't work.

5: Put Double-Sided Tape on Furniture

Another way to discourage a specific behavior is to put double-sided tape on pieces of furniture your fur baby is likely to try to scratch. When they reach up to scratch, their paws will end up on the sticky tape, and they'll pull back, unhappy with it.

Put Double-Sided Tape on Furniture Image by Toe Beans

Make sure you have a good, solid scratching post nearby for them to use. Cats are goingto scratch, it's part of their nature and is just something cat parents need to deal with. Your goal is to redirect it, not prevent it.

6: Consider a Motion Air Sprayer

Motion-activated air sprayers detect motion and release a brief jet of air. That's all they do. They aren't aimed at the cat – and indeed, you should position them so it can't.

A Motion Air Sprayer Image by Toe Beans

The goal is the noise of the hiss of air resembles a warning hiss from another cat or animal and will startle and dissuade your cat from whatever they were doing. These are best used as another form of countertop deterrent and not as anything manual.

Learn the Root Cause of Bad Behaviors

One thing to consider, as well, is that many bad behaviors are not caused by your cat wanting to lash out or spite you or just to cause trouble; they have other root causes. For example:

  • Maybe your cat is opting to scratch the furniture because, when they try to scratch their scratching post, it wobbles. Or maybe the scratching post is splintered, and they've hurt their paws on it before.
  • Maybe your cat is jumping on the counters because it's the highest place they can get to, and they don't have anywhere else they can go to survey their domain.
  • Maybe your cat is missing the litter box because it's full and dirty, or another cat is bullying them and using it as their territory.
  • Maybe your cat is missing the litter box because they're sick and stressed and can't help themselves. UTIs, stomach bugs, parasites, and other infections can all cause litter issues.

In these cases, all of the training in the world is unlikely to help because it doesn't solve the root issue. You need to pay attention to the behaviors themselves and think about why they're happening so you can solve the root issue for a happier, healthier fur baby.

Learning the Root Cause of Bad Behaviors Image by Toe Beans

Training a cat is all about working with them to encourage the behaviors you want to see and distract or redirect them from the behaviors you don't. It takes time, dedication, and consistency, but it canbe done. Trust me, your fur baby will thank you!

After reading today's article, did you have any questions? As always, I'm more than happy to help fellow pet parents however I can, so be sure to leave your questions in the comments section down below!

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more

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