Kittens are pretty cute, and that might be for good reason. If you have ever experienced the wild behaviors of a pint-sized predator, you probably realize that the cute may just be a survival instinct.
Having a kitten doesn’t mean that you need to tolerate kitten biting, scratching, or other random kitten attacks. Animal Medical Hospital & 24 Hour Urgent Care has some kitten training tips for you to help tame the tiny terror.
Kitten Training Basics
When it comes to training animals (or people for that matter), many of the same basic principles apply across the board. Understanding the fundamentals of animal behavior can help set you up for success when it comes to kitten training.
Some of the basic parts of any training program include:
- Conditioning—Conditioning is the process of getting an animal to associate a trigger with something else (remember Pavlov’s dogs who started to salivate when a bell rang because they knew it meant food was coming?).
- Counter conditioning—This is the name of changing a conditioned response over time. Kitty associates the carrier with a trip to the vet? You need to work on counterconditioning the cat to like the carrier.
- Desensitization—This is how you get your pet used to something that is scary or stressful. You can desensitize pets to things like nail clipping, the vacuum cleaner, or other animals.
- Positive reinforcement—Reinforcing a behavior positively typically involves some kind of reward (treat, play, petting) in exchange for the behavior. It is the opposite of positive punishment which is offering a physical deterrent (bop on the nose) or verbal correction (no!) to stop a behavior. Positive reinforcement has been shown to result in much stronger and reliable behavior over time.
Consistency is also key. When you have a kitten in your home, it is important to be sure everyone in the family knows the rules and has the same expectations for your pet. This helps your kitten get started on the right paw.
Troubleshooting Kitten Biting and Other Kitten Attacks
What are you supposed to do, though, when despite your best efforts you are being assaulted with kitten biting and other misdemeanors?
Setting your kitten up for success is an important first step. Certain things like scratching, play hunting, and those evening zoomies are natural cat behaviors, so giving your kitty an appropriate outlet is vital.
Be sure to:
- Give your kitten a safe place like a crate that is all their own
- Provide plenty of appropriate scratching surfaces
- Not encourage nipping or jumping behaviors that are cute when kittens are small but not so cute when they get bigger
- Know how to provide appropriate litter box spaces
- Get creative with vertical space
- Appeal to your kitty’s hunting instincts with things like a bird feeder outside of the window, a secure fish tank, or videos geared towards cats and other indoor enrichment
- Utilize your pet’s socialization period to be sure your kitten has positive experiences with different people, sounds, animals, and experiences
By taking these steps and engaging in some kitten training, you will minimize behavior issues. When they do occur, though, you will have the tools you need to troubleshoot.
Kitten biting you when they want to play? Work on conditioning them to attacking their toys instead of you. Remove any inadvertent rewards for play biting like yelling or flailing that may be interpreted as a fun time for a mischievous little feeling.
Are you the target of kitten attacks as you walk down the stairs or get out of the shower? Redirect your kitten’s hunting behaviors with interactive toys and other targets. Walk away from attacks or even remain still so that you are not a fun target of their aggression.
If you are having trouble with your cat’s behavior, don’t forget we are always here to help. Some situations are more complex than others. Be sure to contact us if you feel that you could utilize our behavior consultation services. It’s always our goal for you and your pet to enjoy each other’s company.