To live in greater harmony with your cat, do what tiger and domestic cat mothers do:
Teach what “No” means. I know – you may be thinking, “Are you kidding? This is a cat we’re talking about, not a dog. They can’t learn that. They do whatever they want, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” Right? Nope, don’t let your cat fool you. They can learn “no”, just like dogs do.
Cat mothers teach proper conduct and rules of behavior by conveying “no” by the sounds she makes or with her body language. If the tiger cub gets too excited and bites her too hard, or does something wrong, mom will hold him down and if he still acts up, a snarl is her next way of saying a harsh “no!”
Rarely will the mom cat, big or small, take the next step of nipping or biting at her young and she is careful to not overly reprimand the very young kittens, yet becomes stronger in her discipline as they mature. This all has meaning for you, as you are your cat’s substitute mom whether you are male or female.
You need to make your kitten or cat care about and understand the word “no”. This should be your response to a negative action by your cat and the word must be used correctly to get the point across. Used incorrectly, or not at all, and discipline will go right down the drain. So here’s how to teach “no”.
First – Never yell or scream the word. Just use your normal speaking voice. Do put enough tone into it to get the cat’s attention, but say it quietly enough not to startle your cat. Cats hear very well – we think we must yell to get the point across, yet all it will do is make your cat want to flee. I once yelled a loud NO, STOP THAT! at Willie, when he was just a few months old to stop him from biting me and all that happened is he crashed off the bed as fast as he could and ran crazed, all over the place for 5 minutes. Not the reaction I was looking for, no lesson learned and I felt just terrible.
What you want, is for the cat to acknowledge you and then stop what it’s doing, like clawing and biting your arm. Also be consistent with the word and tone of voice. Changing from “no”, to “stop”, to “don’t do that” is simply confusing to your cat. Stick to a simple “no” said the same way each time.
Second – Get the timing right – To be effective you must use “no” precisely when the kitten or cat is in the act you want to discourage. Like when it first jumps up on the kitchen counter where the package of chicken is defrosting. A delayed ‘no’ has very little meaning to your cat. Rest assured, your cat will give you more than enough chances to practice saying “no” at the exact right time.
Third – Always praise or give positive reinforcement to your cat when she has stopped misbehaving. It is common for us to get good at noticing the unwanted behavior and saying our “no’s” yet we forget to praise them for obeying us and stopping. The word, ‘no’ will never work, unless you consistently follow it up with reinforcing praise. When your cat stops tearing the toilet paper off the roll, for example, praise her in a gentle voice.
Fourth – very important – make sure every human member of the household is helping the cat to follow the same rules by using the word “no” for the same unwanted behaviors and all are being consistent. If you don’t allow the cat on the dining room table but your children do, it’s confusing to the cat and “no” loses its meaning. Before you know it, one night, when your back is turned, she’ll land in the middle of the pot roast on the table and what do you have….a gravy soaked, sick cat and disappointed, hungry guests.