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How to train kittens and cats

Training’s not just for dogs. Cats and kittens can be trained too. From using a litter tray to wearing a harness, kitten training helps your kitty learn how to be a well-behaved member of the family. You can even teach cats tricks. Read on to learn how.



Cat and kitten training

Cats are intelligent and responsive animals. This means that with a little patience and plenty of encouragement, they can be trained in a variety of ways. It’s not just tricks they need to learn, but good behaviour around the home. Cats can be trained to do things like use the litter tray and keep off the kitchen counters – although teaching a cat to sit and play fetch is good fun too. 

Training a kitten from a young age means they can be quicker to learn, but adult cats can also be trained easily. Some cat breeds are smarter than others so your kitten will likely learn at his or her own pace. Cat and kitten training should always be reward-based – rewarding good behaviour with treats, toys or attention – rather than punishment-based. 

How to litter train kittens

Litter training kittens and cats helps keep your home clean, hygienic and free from smells. Kittens can start litter training as soon as you bring them home. Here’s how to do  it:

  1. Choose the right sized litter tray – full-size litter trays might be too big and intimidating for kittens. They can also find enclosed litter boxes frightening, so start with something that’s easy to climb into and a suitable size. It should be around 1 ½ times their length. 
  2. Have more than one litter box. You should have one more litter tray than you have cats – so if you have one cat, you’ll need two litter boxes, and if you have two cats, make it three litter boxes.  
  3. Select the right type of litter. There are lots of different types of litter for your tray – from clay to wheat or corn-based and clumping or non-clumping. You might find that your cat has a preference. 
  4. Choose the right place for your litter boxes. It might be tempting to hide them in less noticeable locations, but cats don’t like to feel trapped when they’re going to the toilet. Your litter trays need to be easy for kittens to find when they’re settling into their new home. 

Clicker training cats

Cats are independent pets who generally aren’t as keen to please as dogs. But that’s not to say they can’t learn if they’re motivated by a reward – and a clicker can be a great method for this. This small plastic device makes a ‘click’ sound when you press it, and usually communicates that a cat is doing something right. 

Cat clicker training is a way to teach your feline friend to associate the sound of a ‘click’ with a reward. Once they understand the ‘click and reward’ system, you can teach a wide variety of behaviours and tricks. 

Here's how to do it:

  1. Have the clicker in one hand and your cat’s favourite treats in the other. 
  2. When your cat is relaxed, click the clicker and immediately give them a treat. Keep doing this to build the association with the click meaning a reward is coming. 
  3. Once this association is cemented, you can start to use the clicker to reinforce desired behaviour. For example, if you want to stop your cat from jumping on the kitchen surfaces, use the click and reward system when they’re on the floor. They will learn  that it’s more rewarding to stay down there, rather than jumping up. 

Cat harness training

Although uncommon, it’s possible to take a cat for walks. But simply putting a harness on a cat without training can be stressful and unpleasant for them – not to mention difficult for you.  

Cat harness training helps your kitty get used to the harness gradually and learn to associate it with positive experiences. Here’s how to put a harness on a cat:

  1. Wait until your cat is relaxed, calm and happy before starting harness training. 
  2. Get them used to the harness by simply leaving it in the room with your cat. This will get them used to it so it’s not completely new to them. 
  3. Next, show your cat the harness. Let them sniff it and give them lots of treats when they interact with it, so they build a positive association. If they choose to inspect it further, keep giving them treats. Wait a day or two before moving on to the next step.
  4. Now it’s time to try gently putting the harness on your cat. The best time to do this if right before mealtime, so they’re distracted and can learn to associate the harness with something positive. If they react negatively, leave it for the day and try again another time. Don’t force it if your cat isn’t enjoying it. 
  5. When you’re able to successfully slip the harness on, let your cat wear it around the house for a short period to get used to how it feels. Give them plenty of treats and encouragement. Don’t fasten it tightly at first.
  6. Practice putting the harness on and taking it off every day, letting your cat wear it for a little longer each time. Make sure you’re giving them plenty of treats and praise, so they really build up the positive association. 
  7. Once your cat seems totally comfortable wearing the harness, you can try attaching the lead and walking with them in the house. 
  8. When you feel you’re both ready, it’s time to try taking it outdoors. Go for a short walk in the garden first, before graduating to public spaces. If your cat is usually an indoor cat, the outside world can be overwhelming at first. Keep outside walks short and build them up gradually. 

How to train a cat to use a cat flap

Cat flaps are an easy way for your kitty to get in and out of the house without you having to open the door for them. But they can take some getting used to. Here’s how to train a cat to use a cat flap: 

  1. Show your cat how the cat flap works before you install it. Let them explore the flap and climb through it if they want to. Use treats for encouragement. 
  2. Once installed, prop the cat flap open for the first few weeks. This will let them get used to coming and going from that spot in the house and allow their scent to brush off on the entrance so it’s familiar to them. 
  3. Now close the flap and encourage them to come through with treats. If they don’t move, push your hand through the flap and pull your hand slowly back when they move towards the treat to encourage them to follow it. 
  4. Praise them when they pass through the cat flap and repeat the process until they get used to pushing the flap open themselves. 

Training good behaviour in cats

Cats are lovable and intelligent pets, but their animal instincts can sometimes be a nuisance around the home. But, it is possible to train good behaviour. Never shout at or punish your cat if they’re misbehaving, instead try to direct their behaviour elsewhere.

Scratching furniture

Your brand-new sofa legs could end up in tatters if your cat is prone to scratching. Direct this behaviour to a scratching post instead, rewarding them with treats when they use it instead of your furniture. You can also buy sprays that have scents your cat doesn’t like to keep them away from the furniture.   

Climbing curtains

Although their climbing abilities are impressive, you don’t want your kittens hanging from your curtains. Climbing is an instinct for cats, so investing in a cat climbing frame or similar can help divert the behaviour elsewhere. Give them lots of treats and praise when they climb in their designated cat-friendly area.  

Scratching and biting

A cat that scratches and bites people is never pleasant –especially around children. But you can train them in good manners. Give them plenty of outlets to unleash their predatory instincts through play - instead of on your ankles. Play with chase toys like a toy mouse on a string or a ball. This is good for mental and physical stimulation. 

You can also teach your cat not to bite or scratch by stopping playing with or interacting with them whenever it happens. Simply walk away, and your cat will learn that they don’t get attention if they show signs of aggression. 

You should also teach children how to behave around cats to avoid any reactive behaviour. Cats who feel threatened or afraid are more likely to show aggression. Teach children to be gentle and respect your cat.  

If you do think your cat is suffering from behavioural problems that could be caused by an illness you may be able to use your Sainsbury’s Bank Cat Insurance to help fund the cost of any treatment required. Provided by Pinnacle Insurance plc.

Frequently asked questions 

Are kittens easy to train?

Although cats are more wilful than dogs, they are intelligent and, with enough motivation, can be trained. It’s easier to train kittens from a young age than training adult cats. You just need patience, perseverance, and plenty of treats with kitten training.

How old should a kitten be to start training?

You can start training things like how to use a litter box as soon as you bring your kitten home. It’s best to wait a few weeks until they’re fully settled in before trying cat harness training or cat flap training. 

How should you discipline a cat?

You shouldn’t discipline a cat with physical punishment or by shouting. This will only make your cat fear you. You also shouldn’t withhold food as punishment. If your cat misbehaves, the best thing you can do is ignore it. You can even leave the room to show them certain behaviour won’t be tolerated. Your cat will soon learn that good behaviour is rewarded with lots of praise and attention, while bad behaviour gets them nowhere.


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