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How does one discipline a cat? (or what am I doing wrong?)

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  • How does one discipline a cat? (or what am I doing wrong?)

    I have a middle aged cat. He is approx 7-8 years of age. Neutered. I got him from the shelter about a year ago. 95% of the time, he is a total love bug. He follows me around, cuddles with me, wants to be around me and purrs A LOT and loudly!

    The other 5% he is a total jerk. He will come over to where I'm sitting, act like he wants to cuddle, jump up and settle down as per usual. I will pet him (like normal) and all of a sudden he will bite me. He doesn't bite so hard that I have puncture wounds or need medical attention, but he does break the skin and leave marks. When he does this, I angrily tell him no and push him off me/couch/bed. Then I ignore him for about half an hour.

    Now that I've had him for a while, I can kind of tell what not to do: when I'm petting him and he starts following my hand/arm with his head, I know he's going to do it. But sometimes it just comes out of the blue. He's been to the vet and has a clean bill of health. I'm never rough with him - always gentle petting.

    Any ideas?? Am I doing it wrong? This is my first kitty so still learning about cats!

  • #2
    How much time do you spend playing with him each day? (like with those sticks that have a long elastic with a clump of feathers on it). Playing like that for 20 min or so a couple of times a day will help.

    Also, giving him high perches, that he can climb on around the room, will exercise him, and stimulate him mentally. A lot of time, they do what you are doing to play/out of frustration at not getting their energy out and not enough mental stimulation.

    Discipline doesn't work that well with cats. It's more a matter of teaching appropriate behavior thru using toys. But if they scratch/bite, you really only can do what you are doing. Just get out of the situation.

    Some cats will accept petting only for a certain amount of time, then all of a sudden they "snap". For them, I usually pet for a shorter amount of time than they seem to want. Also, bellies are off limits for that type of cat, as it seems to trigger them biting and scratching.


    • #3
      My foster cat does similar, but his is usually related to wanting food and he usually "bites" my leg when I am walking or ignoring him. I found he responded well to being sprayed with water, so during times where I know he is more apt to "attack" I carry the spray bottle with me. Its to the point now that if I have it then he won't even try it.

      Sometimes I think he does it cause he wants to play. He just started to figure out toys, but spends a lot of time chasing his tail in the evenings. He was a feral and trapped around the middle of June, so he is still learning how to interact with humans properly. He is an older ex-tom.
      I love cats, I love every single cat....
      So anyway I am a cat lover
      And I love to run.


      • #4
        He has a large ego and a small brain.

        The "Get the F off me!" And Ignore for a while is a fine technique.

        Here's another that works as well: Pin him-- to the ground, clamped under your arm or whatever, look him in the eye and tell him

        A. "No."
        B. I am the boss of you and you will submit to me.
        C. I have all day.

        What's happening is that kitteh is enjoying your relationship but in there, he starts to ask about who holds the power. It's a fair question.

        Also, if he isn't getting enough attention or playing (in ways that don't hurt you), he's a frustrated juvenile delinquent. You know what I mean: He's the kid who isn't getting enough of the right attention, so he'll take bad attention if that's all there is. So to be fair, you do have to make sure that you are playing the kind of cat games he does like sometimes. After that, you are within your rights to ask him not to ambush you while you all are cuddling.

        Back to that. The switch from Love to Kill is not one that the person/cat with less power gets to make. He needs to lose something he wants when he oversteps his bounds. Since he has a big ego (after all, he's a grown man and a cat), your kicking him off your lap might not be enough. Does he come back, all contrite and ask for attention? Or does he accept your diss and move on with his day? If the latter is his response, you haven't given him enough to lose. A cat being held until he gives up and goes limp is very, very inconvenienced. Also, he can think during his inconvenient lock up. He might be pissed, but he is not terrorized, so he has a chance to try different strategies to try and please you.

        He can be as pissed as he likes (that you said No to his controlling the terms of your relationship), but it won't help. The only thing that does earn him his freedom is limp chillage. Then you let him go and forget the whole thing happened.

        You can do this "inconvenient lock down" when he acts as if he's going to attack but hasn't yet. Cat knows his plan so you can train him (address his thoughts) whether or not he actually executes the attack. Don't be rough. Just be firm and patient.

        If you can do this a couple of times and out-wait the cat, you have the tool you need. If he gets out of line, pin him/contain him as you have in the past, look him in the eye and let him know that the same routine will follow-- how long and firmly you hold him is up to him.

        The a-hole of a cat I know who was fixed this way didn't take much. If you were petting him, even on the belly, he usually met your eye first before attacking (cat asking for permission). If you pinned him by the chest to the ground or chair or whatever he was on, looked at him with a steely gaze and said "Seriously? You want to go there?" the cat gave up. It didn't take much at all once he was trained.
        The armchair saddler
        Politically Pro-Cat


        • #5
          Discipline a cat?! PFFT!
          "If you think nobody cares about you, try missing a couple payments..."


          • #6
            This is called "beingacatitis". Cats are, of course, royalty that do what they want when they want and damn the consequences!


            • #7
              Overstimulation. Some cats just go purr-purr-RAWR. It's a cat thing. Some cats just have this strange "I can only take so much love at once" and when they hit that limit they bug out. You just have to recognize when you're up against the line and back off. Punishing them when it's purr-purr-rawr really doesn't work.
              "The nice thing about memories is the good ones are stronger and linger longer than the bad and we sure have some incredibly good memories." - EverythingButWings


              • #8
                cats are readily trained using positive reinforcement; they don't train very easily in response to corrects/punishment; and they don't respond at all to "dominance" based methods.

                You have a simple, common cat behavior called "Overstimulation" going on:



                • #9
                  It's just a cat thing, they can get overstimulated. You really can't discipline it. just try to stop patting him before he gets to the point of biting. If you don't read him right and get nipped, just ignore him until he chills out.


                  • #10
                    Y'all take too much crap for your cats and don't give them enough credit!

                    IMO, you can train any animal if:

                    You have something they want or cat set it up that way.

                    You learn how to read them and infer the stuff going on in their head well enough.

                    They aren't so scared or so stupid that they can't connect the dots you lay out for them to find in a path. The animal has to be able to think and choose and reap different outcomes depending on his choices.

                    You have time.

                    Hehe. Some organizations send their bad managers to Horse Whispering seminars to teach them how to deal with people. We should be requiring supervisors to train a cat or two first. *Then* we'll see some real talent.
                    The armchair saddler
                    Politically Pro-Cat


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by wendy View Post
                      cats are readily trained using positive reinforcement; they don't train very easily in response to corrects/punishment; and they don't respond at all to "dominance" based methods.

                      You have a simple, common cat behavior called "Overstimulation" going on:

                      Negative reinforcement doesn't work.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by jetsmom View Post
                        Negative reinforcement doesn't work.
                        And another thing!

                        Negative reinforcement never works. It is a stupid philosophy for behaviorists who don't want to break a sweat and figure out how the animal is thinking or what he wants.

                        1. The person/animal can remember how bad it was last time or can imagine that.
                        2. The person/animal could have done otherwise.
                        3. Something appreciably better is offered as an alternative.

                        When people talk about negative reinforcement, the only alternatives they offer are "Bad" or "Nothing." They never offer something better. So if you're vocabulary of responses to an animal's "answer" to your training requests consists only of "No" or nothing, you cut "Yes"-- a new word and a contrasting concept with "No"-- out of your vocabularly. Why would anyone choose to use fewer words and concepts with an animal than they had to?

                        So with everyone-- and cats-- it's about negotiation. If you "negotiate" by not getting inside the other guy's head and never offering him anything but "I'll kick your ass if you don't do as a I say," he'll either be oppressed or stop negotiating with you.
                        The armchair saddler
                        Politically Pro-Cat


                        • #13

                          at 4:30 discipline is covered.


                          • #14
                            And another another thing!

                            Positive reinforcement means you had to figure out what the animal wants. Cats are tough because they are psychologically autonomous. They have set it up so that they can give us the ol' "Meh, I can take it or leave it."

                            So think of training a cat as you would setting up a bribe. The cat is a rich man. No one wants to be bribed, so you need to bring more money to the table in order to buy a rich man than a poor man.

                            The other way to do this is to set up a situation where you hold something the cat wants, and he can figure out how to get it, and he actually can start to earn it.

                            The beauty of training an animal is that both sides think they hold the cards. While you are setting up the positive/negative set of consequences that makes the cat do as you wish, he's noticing what he can do in order to make you change your behavior. The more an animal thinks he can influence his world, the more he'll show up and try.
                            The armchair saddler
                            Politically Pro-Cat


                            • #15
                              Could well be that he needs to play to blow off steam but here's what I do with my cats. If they do something inappropriate, I take them by the scruff of the neck (not harshly), make them face me and calmly but firmly tell them "no, not appropriate behavior." After they've stopped trying to do the behavior, I put them on the floor and ignore them. Seems to work well as I rarely have to do it.
                              Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Goethe


                              • #16
                                ^^^ Do you think they understand "No, not appropriate behavior"? I tried with Mondy to encourage him to put on a happy face (as opposed to ears pinned) if he wanted a carrot/apple/what have you. I tried "pleasant demeanor" but the simple command "EARS!" works much better. He gets it now.

                                With my cats, they know that the "ANH ANH ANH!!" vocalization from the hoomin means cut out whatever it is you are doing post haste.
                                What's wrong with you?? Your cheese done slid off its cracker?!?!


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by oliverreed View Post
                                  ^^^ Do you think they understand "No, not appropriate behavior"? I tried with Mondy to encourage him to put on a happy face (as opposed to ears pinned) if he wanted a carrot/apple/what have you. I tried "pleasant demeanor" but the simple command "EARS!" works much better. He gets it now.

                                  With my cats, they know that the "ANH ANH ANH!!" vocalization from the hoomin means cut out whatever it is you are doing post haste.
                                  No one understands the vague, PC term "inappropriate." That shouldn't work for both white after Labor Day and, say, Treason.

                                  I like the Scruff (make the world stop), the Steely Eye (It's God, yanno, the Guy who makes the Earth turn or not talking to You), the voice** and ignore (While cat is psyched he escaped the wrath).

                                  Now with the voice, it's all in the tone. You could read the phonebook to a cat in the right or wrong tone of voice and still get your point across.
                                  The armchair saddler
                                  Politically Pro-Cat


                                  • #18
                                    actually, negative reinforcement is a very effective training method- it's PUNISHMENT/discipline/corrections that don't work well, particularly with cats.

                                    the difference being in the timing of the application of the aversive. With punishment, the aversive is applied AFTER the animal is "bad", and there is nothing the animal can do at that moment to avoid or escape the aversive; negative reinforcement is applied WHILE the animal is being "bad" and is immediately removed as soon as the animal stops being bad. Punishment has been shown over and over again to be the least effective way to alter behavior in any species, and to particularly useless in cats, wild animals, and baby animals.

                                    In negative reinforcement, the animal can "turn off" the aversive by changing its behavior. For example, the Scat Mat- this is a wonderful device to train cats to stay off of the kitchen counters. The cat jumps onto the scat mat, and receives a mild electric shock- but only as long as the cat stays on the mat. The cat can end the aversive immediately by jumping off the mat. That is negative reinforcement. Or a squirt bottle- if you squirt the cat until the cat jumps off the counter, again, the cat's behavior ends the aversive= negative reinforcement. Cats rapidly learn to stay off the counter in response to negative reinforcement.

                                    Punishment would be you grabbing the cat by the scruff, shaking the cat, and shrieking NO whenever the cat jumps up on the counter- once you've started punishing, nothing the cat can do will end the punishment. Cats in particular are notorious for learning nothing from punishment- they just get really scared by your behavior and may run away, thus temporarily ending the bad behavior, and the cat may be so scared by the encounter that it never jumps up on the counter when you are present (only when you aren't), thus leading some people to think "it worked".

                                    in the OP's example, it would be very difficult to use negative reinforcement- the aversive would have to be applied at the exact moment the cat was biting. Shrieking in pain and then instantly stopping the shriek as the cat removes the teeth might qualify. Assuming the cat finds shrieking to be aversive, which many cats won't.

                                    Unlike more social animals (dogs, horses) cats really don't care about your approval/disapproval, or about "dominance" or respect, so trying to use these to train a cat is utterly a waste of time.

                                    Where cats really shine, though, is in positive reinforcement- cats are perfectly willing to work for things they want, like food and catnip, and their behavior can be easily and rapidly modified using these methods.

                                    The idea that cats can't be trained is because, sadly, most people don't think "proactive" and just automatically reach for punishment as their first training tool. You can easily train your cat to stay off the counter by pro-actively using positive reinforcement, and then you won't have to go buy a scat mat. Same with any other irritating cat behavior- instead of thinking "STOP THIS" think of what you want the cat to do instead, and teach the cat to do it.

                                    One good way to train people to think in terms of "proactive" is to, every morning, count out a certain number of treats, and try to "catch the animal in the act of being good" throughout the day. This works for dogs, cats, chickens, horses, children, any species. Start out with only 5 treats, and try to work your way up to 100 per day, each and every day. Some people I know who have tried this reported that their dogs or cats behavior radically improved in only a couple of days of being "caught in the act of being good". You can use praise and toys and petting as well as treats, but while re-training yourself to be pro-active it's better to use something you can count out and make sure you did it a certain number of times a day. The really good trainers naturally use this approach with any new animal and they hand out thousands of rewards per day in the form of food, praise, toys, and environmental rewards, while they shape the behavior of the new addition to the household. Examples of your cat being "caught being good": sitting quietly next to the sofa (instead of clawing up the sofa); clawing the scratching post (instead of something else); being on the floor in the kitchen (instead of on the counter); standing calmly by the door as you come in (instead of trying to dart out between your legs); being quiet at 6 am (instead of howling).


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by mvp View Post
                                      Now with the voice, it's all in the tone. You could read the phonebook to a cat in the right or wrong tone of voice and still get your point across.
                                      This. Seriously. You could say to the cat "I love you very, very much," but if you say it in a CTJ sort of way, they get it simply through your voice and your body language (though yes, one syllable words -- NO! -- are more efficient).

                                      I gotta agree that you can do CTJ meetings with cats but you have to be right on the ball to time it right/not get yourself chewed to bits and flayed in the process.

                                      To the OP, I agree with those who say that your cat a) suffers from over-stimulation and b) thinks you are there purely for his pleasure.

                                      Here's some of the things I did with my old lady cat who is very purr-purr-purr-RAWR: When he hops up into your lap, face him away from you for starters -- your hand won't be tracking across the danger zone and you can learn how to read his tail. He'll also have nothing to go for when he wants to get your attention in a snotty way. It'll take too much energy to whip around and nail you (unless you're really rubbing him the wrong way, but he would have indicated that much in advance) so his options will be to hop down and walk away -- a safe response for the both of you.

                                      I think you just need to learn the borders of his tolerance -- my girl likes her head rubbed and a couple swipes down her back, then I leave her be for 10mins or so before I bother to touch her again. It's just enough touchy-feely for her to not blow her mind but it still makes sure that she knows I'm doing my human slave thing.


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Holly Jeanne View Post
                                        Could well be that he needs to play to blow off steam but here's what I do with my cats.
                                        IMO, we need hotwalkers for children and cats the way we have them for horses. A tired cat is a good cat. If you could "ride fence" on a cat, he'd be good at the end of the day.
                                        The armchair saddler
                                        Politically Pro-Cat