Does your cat insist on climbing on your counters, scratching your furniture or pouncing on your ankles? Renowned 'cat whisperer', Jackson Galaxy suggests replacing these unwanted behaviours with positive solutions that'll work for both you and your pet. We've rounded up his practical tips here.
The golden rule: keep it consistent
In order to effectively discourage a pet's unwanted behaviour, Jackson says, you'll need to be 100% consistent in your feedback. In the past, some owners were advised to discourage certain behaviours by using a squirt bottle as a deterrent. But, Jackson says, unless you do this every time your cat performs an unwanted action, she won't get the message. 'All your cat will learn is that when you're around she shouldn't do something,' he explains. And worse still, your pet might begin to associate the unpleasant consequence with you, rather than the behaviour itself.
So how can you discourage a cat from doing something in the first place? According to Jackson, one solution is to remove yourself from the equation, while keeping the consequence consistent. This could mean repeatedly using a tool - such as specially designed double sided tape - on your counters for at least a month, as cats dislike the sticky feeling and will learn to avoid coming into contact with it. Then, Jackson says, you should also identify what benefit your cat gets from performing these unwanted actions, for example, does she like getting your attention, even if it is negative? Jackson advises finding a way to replace this perceived benefit with a more positive solution, something he calls his 'yes/no' theory. Here's how you can put it into practice:
Tricky behaviour 1: Climbing on counters
To prevent your cat from getting onto your counters or any other surfaces, you'll first need to assess what reward she's getting out of doing so. 'Are you keeping food up there, or is your cat a big fan of running water from the tap?' asks Jackson. Keep in mind that it could also be an instinctual need to climb to a higher spot that's driving her behaviour.
Once you've identified the reward in this situation, Jackson then suggests using the 'yes/no' theory. For example, he says, 'no' could be making use of a consistent method, such as using double-sided tape. By sticking it on the spots that your cat routinely jumps on to (or, if you're concerned about your surfaces, sticking it onto a large bit of cardboard and placing it over the area), your cat will soon learn to associate getting on the counter with a sticky feeling she dislikes and avoid repeating the behaviour. But, he cautions, to effectively prevent the behaviour you'll also need to provide a 'yes'. You can do so by placing a water fountain or a climbing tree, which is around the same height as the counter, in a spot near to the kitchen - thereby replacing your pet's unwanted actions with a positive solution.
Tricky behaviour 2: Scratching furniture
Unfortunately for your furniture, scratching is a necessary feline behaviour. The action not only helps your pet to stretch and exercise her upper body, but it's also the instinctive way she marks her territory. 'But think about where your cat is scratching,' Jackson says. It's more than likely that your cat will be making her mark on the areas where you spend the most time, such as your sofa or your bed, to complement your scent in these places with her own markings.
Once you've established why your cat is clawing at a certain area, you can then apply the 'yes/no' theory. Again, the 'no' in this case could involve using double-sided tape to create a tacky sensation, and ensure that scratching no longer feels as pleasant for your cat. 'And for the "yes",' Jackson says, 'you'll need to place a scratching post right next to that area.' It's vital that the scratching post is as close as possible to the place that your pet has chosen to mark; this is, after all, a spot she views as territorially important.
So what makes a good scratching post? According to Jackson, the best quality to look for is a wide, secure base to help your cat feel stable when she pulls downwards while scratching. 'If the post wobbles, your nice, steady sofa will automatically look more appealing,' he reasons.
Tricky behavior 3: Pouncing on your ankles
Has your cat decided that your limbs are her favourite form of prey? 'This is typical play aggression,' Jackson says, 'although to your ankles it might not always feel like playing!'
If your pet is pouncing on you unexpectedly, it may simply be because she's quite literally tapping in to her wild side and practising her hunting skills on you. 'But this isn't cause for concern, as at its root this behaviour is play,' Jackson explains. And while it may take an unwanted form, playfulness should never be discouraged, it should simply be directed into a more appropriate outlet.
'To do so, you'll need to make sure you're playing with your cat in the right way,' Jackson says. For most cats this will mean using an interactive toy at the level they feel most comfortable hunting - that is, low to the ground, rather than high up in the air. You can use a variety of chase toys, such as a feather on a string or a fluffy 'dangler', and give your pet the thrill of stalking it by occasionally making it disappear around corners. As cats thrive on routine, establishing a set time for play every day can also help your cat feel more in control of the hunting game, and less likely to pounce at random. 'And make sure to tire your cat out,' says Jackson. 'That way you'll help her to get rid of her energy and the tendency to pounce, how and when it suits you.'