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Teaching a kitten to understand the word 'NO'

Once your kitten knows how to use her litter tray and comes when she is called, you can take her training one stage further. With a kitten the best time to eliminate bad behaviour is before it becomes a habit.

Kittens will always get into trouble. If your kitten accidentally knocks your precious china off the mantelpiece, or scratches a chair leg while trying to climb on to the chair, well that happens occasionally, and is part of having a kitten. But we want to discourage habits which can both discourage the human and be harmful to the kitten. So if the kitten chooses to scratch furniture, rather than doing so accidentally, this habit needs to be stopped in its tracks. Also nibbling on pot plants should be strongly discouraged. Not only because it destroys the plant but also because many plants are poisonous to cats (see our article on poisons). It's time to teach the word 'NO'.

The word 'NO' is sharp and snappy and easy for a kitten to recognise. She now must be taught to associate the word with things she should not do. Remember that just saying the word 'No' is not going to produce immediate results. The kitten needs to know that this means 'Stop doing that!'

So let's say the kitten starts mauling the delicate fabric of your sofa. This is the time to react. Say the word 'No' loudly and firmly. Then pick the kitten up by the skin at the back of her neck (as a mama cat would do) and gently, I repeat - gently, shake her, saying 'No' a few more times. Then direct her attention to something else.

Remember scratching is natural behaviour by which a cat cleans and polishes her claws. Have a scratch post nearby which the kitten can use instead of your sofa. So now take the kitten to the scratch post and gently, using her paw, scratch the post. Make a bit of loving fuss by patting her head or even produce a tasty treat so she has a good associations with the scratch post. You can even spray the post with a bit of catnip.

Repeat this process every time you catch the kitten attacking furniture. Never ignore this, because the kitten may actually try a few different items of furniture to establish the boundaries. After all, a kitten does not instinctively know that a chair is out of bounds while a scratch post is not. She needs to be shown. Be always firm but not aggressive. Aggression will get you nowhere because cats just do not understand punishment. All that aggression will achieve is that the kitten will start avoiding you. If the word 'No' by itself is not sufficient you can try two more things: 1. spraying her with a bit of water or 2. clapping your hands loudly to startle her. Don't say 'No' with her name, because you want the kitten to associate hearing her name with something pleasant.

Also keep an eye on your kitten and be prepared to encourage her to play with you when she gets bored. This may be hard when you have come home after a long day at work, but it is better than having the kitten discover that anti-social behaviour is the best way to get your attention.

Use the same technique to discourage a kitten from doing other things which are inappropriate - in particular, eating your pot plants. Cats need to eat a bit of greenery every now and then. It helps them to regurgitate the hair that they swallow while washing themselves.This is completely normal.

So if your kitten starts nibbling on plants it may be that she needs roughage. If you have an outdoor cat she will eat grass from time to time. If your kitten is not allowed outside you will need to provide that grass for her at home. Almost every pet stores supplies cat grass which can be grown in a pot. Again use the method described above to teach the kitten houseplants are yours and should not be touched, and then show her the pot of cat grass. She will soon work out what she can eat and what she can't. Even if a house plant is not poisonous, don't let the kitten chew on it, as this gives her the message that house plants can be eaten. Cats are conservative in their habits, and it will be hard to change the rules when you do bring a poisonous plant home.

Once a kitten understands the word 'No' you can use it to stop the kitten from other things you don't want her to do. But don't overdo it. The kitten needs to know what she is doing that is wrong and what she should be doing instead. Just shouting 'no!' every few minutes without explaining matters to the kitten will give you a confused kitty who will probably decide the best solution is simply to ignore you.


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