It’s the suggestion you’ll see in many articles, blogs, books and even TV shows – if your cat is doing something wrong, fill a spray bottle with plain water and give them the swift squirt of justice.
Spraying your cat with water seems to work. The cat will almost always run out of the room – stopping the very behavior you wanted to discourage.
However, this is not an effective long-term training solution. There’re many alternatives that will teach your cat even faster, without destroying your relationship with them.
When Water Spraying Doesn’t Work
Punishment can stop problem behaviors. That’s why so many people have relied on it in the past, and many still do. However, it only works when you’re able to use it consistently.
Even if you keep spray bottles around the house, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to grab one in time for an effective punishment. To punish effectively, you would need to spray your cat the moment they climb on the counter or start to claw the couch.
After a few sprays, your cat will anticipate it as you get closer to them. They may start to hop off the counter as you approach. Some people mistake this for “respect” – but it’s really just a fear response. Your cat may also start to flee when you approach them when they’re not doing anything wrong.
Your cat may also continue to have problem behaviors when you are not around. Punishing your cat does not teach them that a particular behavior is wrong. It just teaches them to tread carefully around you because you might do something unpleasant.
Drawbacks Of Spraying Cat With Water
After you spray your cat with water, you might feel elated, at first, to see the problem behavior momentarily discontinue.
But as you approach your cat for a snuggle, you might notice your cat flinching, or even running away from you. Punishments break your cat’s trust. They don’t understand that your furniture is expensive, or that they’re getting litterbox germs all over the kitchen counter. Exploring, clawing and climbing are natural behaviors, and punishment is not going to lessen your cat’s need to express their natural instincts.
Spraying your cat with water will also make them distrustful of similar bottles and sensations. If you ever have to use flea spray, medicated spray, or even bathe your cat, they will have negative associations that will make these processes very stressful for them.
Cats do not have to hate water. If they have positive experiences with bathing and being sprayed, they can actually learn to enjoy it.
Are Cats Really “Untrainable”?
Cats can seem defiant when they lock eyes with you before knocking over a glass of water – but they’re not purposefully annoying or destructive.
Just like dogs, cats are best trained with positive reinforcement. In fact, it’s even more important to ditch punishments in favor of positive reinforcement when you have a cat. Our feline friends are shy and sometimes skittish. Even raising your voice at a cat can make them fearful, which is not the right mindset for learning new skills and good manners.
Once your cat realizes that you’re willing to provide motivation in the forms of praise, treats and attention, they’ll become more and more trainable.
Teaching your cat a simple cue like “off” can open them up to learning so much more!
Use Positive Reinforcement To Correct Behavior
Your cat jumps up onto the counter where you prepare meals. Naturally, this is unacceptable.
Tell your cat, “Off!” and toss a tasty morsel to the floor. Praise your cat when they leave the counter. You can also pick your cat up, or lead them to a better climbing spot. Cats love high places, so simply installing some cat shelves or a tall scratching post can give your cat fewer reasons to counter-surf.
The same will work if your cat is clawing the couch. Redirect them to scratch at an appropriate scratching post instead. You can use a cue like “go scratch your post” and praise your cat whenever they’re doing right.
Foil, Balloons And Other Tricks
Some people will advise that you make the counter or couch unattractive to your cat by adding inflated balloons, foil or double-sided tape.
These solutions will work temporarily, but as soon as you get rid of them, your cat will be back to the same spot.
If your cat encounters that loud POP when they hit a balloon with the claws, they’ll stay away from the counter for a while. As silly as it sounds, this can be traumatizing for your cat. If your cat does not feel safe in their own home, they may exhibit signs of fear – like pooping outside the litterbox.
Cats dislike the scent of citrus, so a lemon-based spray applied directly to forbidden areas can effectively and humanely keep your cat away.
Disarming Your Cat
Declawing is not a humane option for getting your cat to stop scratching furniture. The procedure doesn’t just remove your cat’s nails – it removes the entire last joint of their toe.
Declawed cats are often in pain for weeks, even months after the procedure. Some never fully recover. The pain can make it difficult for your cat to jump, walk, even climb into their litter box and dig. Cats tend to have litter issues after declawing.
There are claw caps that you can glue to your cat’s nails. The caps make it impossible for your cat’s claws to cause damage. They fall off as your cat’s claws grow, so you have to reapply them every few weeks. Claw caps can be a temporary option, but some cats do not like wearing them.
You can also clip your cat’s nails so that they will be less sharp. This is the best solution, as it also means you’ll be able to play with your cat with less worry of getting scratched.
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