"He's mad at me!"
"She's doing this to spite me!"
"My cat should know better!"
"My cat is getting back at me!"
Does any of this sound familiar? Have you ever been guilty of saying any of the above comments? Well, don't worry because you're not alone. I hear these comments from clients on a daily basis.
A big stumbling block in trying to solve any behavior problem in your cat is assuming that the behavior is motivated by spite or anger. I promise that your cat isn't sitting up at night planning ways to make you mad. He's not peeing on the carpet because he wants to be yelled at and he's not scratching the furniture because he loves being scolded. If you think so called misbehaviors are the result of spite, three detrimental things will likely happen:
1. You'll be focused on the wrong thing and miss the true underlying cause for the behavior.
2. Your relationship with your cat will probably deteriorate.
3. You won't be able to provide successful behavior modification to correct the true behavior problem.
As frustrating as it may be, take a step back and look at the problem from the cat's point of view. To be a problem solver you have to look at what the behavior is accomplishing. Behaviors aren't repeated unless they perform a function. It doesn't mean the owner likes the end result of the behavior but from the cat's point of view the behavior has a purpose. Kitty isn't scratching the chair out of spite because you were late with his dinner, or to get back at you for staying out too long, or to deliberately destroy the furniture you may not have even finished paying for yet. Scratching serves a functional purpose for the cat. Repeated scratching on a piece of furniture means that the object provides the best outcome. If there's a scratching post sitting nearby that is unused then that means the post isn't meeting the cat's needs. It doesn't mean he's ignoring it because he's a spiteful feline, it just means it doesn't do the job. Maybe it's too short, too unstable, or the covering isn't an appealing texture. So if you just chase your cat away from the chair or yell at him for scratching then you haven't solved the problem because kitty still has a natural need to scratch…only now he's a frustrated and frightened kitty with the need to scratch.
When you're dealing with an unwanted behavior, here's the best approach for correcting it:
1. Determine what purpose the behavior serves. What's the pay-off for the cat?
2. Provide an alternative that is of the same or greater value (in the above scratching example it would mean getting the type of post that your cat likes and placing it by the scratched piece of furniture).
3. Let your cat know when he's done it right. Reward your cat for displaying appropriate behavior.
Remember, catch your cat doing something right and reward him. As he learns that the good behavior has more benefits, he'll be likely to stay on that path.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant and owner of Cat Behavior Associates, LLC.
For step-by-step help with behavior issues, refer to the book Starting from Scratch.
The information in this blog is not meant to be a medical diagnosis. Contact your veterinarian if your cat displays a change in behavior because many behavior problems can have underlying medical causes.