Training Your Kitten or Cat
Teaching your kitten social skills
Training kittens start with exposing them to others at a young age. This makes it easier for them to approach new situations with confidence and curiosity. Kittens are usually the least fearful when they are 3-7 weeks old, making them more open to new experiences and changes. After that age, they become more careful. So, it’s important that your breeder/rescue shelter introduces your pet to you as much as possible before you collect them (depending on their breed and breeder).
Of course, their training does not have to stop after that. You can continue training them at home. Here are some tips:
- Invite a variety of friends to your home to help your kitten get used to all sorts of different people – different ages, genders, heights, hair colours and more!
- If you do not have children, invite some to your place. Make sure they know how to behave around the kitten, especially if it is their first time meeting them.
- You may know someone with a cat-friendly dog. Ask them to bring their pet to meet your kitten. The dogs must be well-trained and able to “stay” – even in the excitement of meeting a new friend!
- Take your kitten out in your car for short trips so they would get used to car travel. Offer a special treat when you get home so that they associate travelling with a positive reward.
How to begin kitten training
Once your cat has mastered basic social skills, you can begin training your kitten to learn other things. Before you start, have a full check-up at the vet to make sure your pet doesn’t have any underlying medical conditions that could cause issues, such as joint or hearing problems.
These general pointers can help you and your kitten or cat get the most out of your training sessions:
- Speak clearly and confidently, and encourage with a positive praise every time – for example “sit, good, sit”.
- Use food or snacks as a reward – everyone gets more motivated when there’s a tasty treat involved!
- Use a “clicker” or soft sounding bell when giving your cat a treat, allowing them to relate the sound with a reward so that they can perform the task just by hearing that sound in the future.
- Train your kitten/cat before mealtimes, so that they will be more attracted to the food reward. But don't 'starve' them to make them eager to learn; a hungry cat can quickly lose their patience!
- Try to eliminate background noise from a TV or stereo so your cat can concentrate.
- Keep sessions no longer than 15 minutes, before your cat gets bored or tired.
- Keep training sessions consistent, with the same trainer (either you or a professional, if you’re using one), cues, signals, and rewards.
- Wait until your cat has mastered one skill before trying to teach them another, or it may be too much for them to take in.
- Try to have training sessions every day– irregular sessions may confuse your cat.
- Be patient! Training is bound to take time, so encourage your pet in each session with lots of positive praise and rewards for good behaviour. If your cat does something wrong, use a firm “no” before directing them to something else. For example – if they are knocking items off a surface, say “no” and dangle a toy for them to play with instead.
Now that you know the basics, you can move onto how to teach them specific tasks. Let the fun begin!
Once you’ve chosen a name for our cat, you will want to say it as much as possible. This is great news for your cat, as the more you use their name, the more quickly they will learn that it belongs to them.
Saying your kitten/cat's name repeatedly during enjoyable experiences, such as when they are eating or when you pet or play with them will definitely help the name stick.
If your cat has been naughty, never shout their name. This will make your cat associate their name with negativity, so they might not come running as fast as you’d like when you next call them. This is especially important for outdoor cats.
Although a cat’s natural instincts will lead them to go to the toilet outside, they can easily adapt to use a litter tray, especially if taught from a young age. Older cats may also find a litter tray useful, even if they have not used one before, as their joints start to get stiff and they don’t have the same energy to go outside. There are several stages to follow to help your cat learn how to use a litter tray.
To litter train your kitten, try gently placing them in the tray after they eat, when they wake up and if you see them sniffing, scratching or crouching on the floor as this can be a sign that they’re ready to go! Cat toilet training can sometimes take a little time, so be patient and stick with it.
Use a low-sided plastic tray during kitten training for easy access. Swap to a larger, deeper tray as your cat grows up to give them enough room, and to prevent kicked up litter from escaping. To minimize odours, spillage and more privacy during your cat’s toilet time, use a covered tray. However, the enclosed space can make some cats nervous and they may not like to use it.
Some cats prefer using different types of litter. While some like clumping “scoopable” litters, others may prefer a softer, finer grain – especially indoor cats that have softer paw pads, and older cats with arthritis. If you have to change the litter you use, do it gradually so that it doesn’t come as a surprise to your cat and put them off. Also, avoid scented litters or tray liners, as they can upset your cat’s sensitive nose and put them off using the litter tray. Follow the instructions on the litter packing for recommended depth of litter; making sure that your cat has enough to dig with; along with placing a newspaper underneath the tray can help to catch any loose debris.
There should be one tray per cat, plus an extra one in your house. Place each tray in a quiet area where your cat can do their business in peace, away from where your pet eats and drinks. Always make sure that the tray can be easily accessed, especially if your cat will be inside all day. As cats are very clean animals, they will hold it in for as long as possible if there isn’t somewhere for them to go, which can be very uncomfortable for them and cause health problems.
It’s unlikely for cats to use a litter tray that they’ve already soiled a lot, or in some cases, even once. Some clumping litters make it easier for you to scoop solids and damp clumps out, which should be done daily. Empty the tray at least once a week, or more often if you’re not using a clumping litter. Wash the tray with hot water and detergent. Avoid using disinfectants, as they can be toxic to cats.
You should never handle soiled litter if you are pregnant due to the risk of toxoplasmosis – an infection that can be passed from you to your unborn baby.
If you’ve litter trained your kitten or cat but notice that they are still urinating in the house, it could be a sign of a feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD). This health issue can be painful and even potentially dangerous, so speak to your vet if you have any concerns about this, or any other health problem.
A vital part of training kittens is showing them when and where they should scratch, so that your sofa doesn’t suffer!
A scratching post can be a good surface for any urges your cat may have, but you may need to show them how to use it. Start by showing your kitten/ cat the post, gently lifting your pet’s front paws and make downward, scratching motions on the post or even dangling a toy along/around it to encourage them to play. When their claws hit the post, they should get the idea.
When your cat uses the post, praise them with lots of encouragement. The scent left on the post from your cat’s previous scratching should also attract them back to the post in future.
Like young children, kittens are filled with curiosity, excitement and energy! This means that they might not want to stay still in one place, or they might get restless when you cuddle them, no matter how much they adore you. The same is for older cats that you have perhaps rescued. As they are getting used to new surroundings and a new family, they may want to explore more before falling asleep on your lap.
Give your cat time to grow or adjust, and don’t force them to stay still or be picked up if they don’t want to be. With a little time, understanding and compromise, your cat will soon be as keen to cuddle as you are!