Cats are lovable in so many ways, but they can also annoy us, damage things, and leave a trail of chaos in their wake! If you find yourself constantly saying “no” to your cat, it can get exhausting. Turn things around by saying “yes” instead, and see how this may be even more effective.
Why Create a “Yes” For Every “No”?
Many of the behaviors we struggle with in our pet cats are completely normal, natural behaviors for them. It isn’t fair, and may not be possible, to completely eliminate them. Trying to chase unwanted behavior around with punishment is frustrating and difficult to do effectively (for example, is that spray bottle really working for you?). It is far easier and kinder to find a way for these behaviors to be expressed safely and appropriately. Everyone will be happier!
Try It For: Scratching
Destructive scratching on furniture, carpet, walls, and other surfaces can put a real strain on your relationship with your cat (and your landlord). Scratching is a natural behavior that lets a cat stretch their muscles and leave scent marks that aid in their sense of security at home. Even cats without claws will make scratching motions. (Here’s more on why declawing is a risky choice.)
“Yes” for Scratching
Consider where your cat has shown interest in scratching. Is it vertical (up and down) or horizontal (flat on the ground)? What textures do they like (soft or hard)? Where do they want to scratch (in areas where everyone hangs out, near doors or windows, etc)?
Next, choose a scratching post, pad, or structure that takes your cat’s preferences into account. Make sure it is tall enough (or long enough) for them to fully stretch out. Ensure it’s stable and won’t move or wobble. Many cats like sisal rope-covered options, some prefer cardboard, and others will want something harder. Place appropriate options near where your cat has shown interest in scratching.
You can make the post even more interesting by rubbing it with catnip and scattering treats around it. Don’t try to “show your cat” or force them by holding their paws to the post.
“No” for Scratching
If possible, keep your cat away from areas they have shown interest in scratching by closing doors or blocking areas. Clean areas that have been scratched to remove the scent marks associated with scratching. Try double-sided tape or covering the area with a different texture that is less appealing to scratch. It is more effective to make the area less pleasant to scratch than to try to punish by scolding your cat or squirting them with a squirt bottle.
In some cases you can change your cat’s associations with these areas by using a pheromone product (such as Feliway) or gently rubbing your cat’s cheeks with a towel and then rubbing it on the spot (as long as your cat is comfortable with this). This can encourage more rubbing, instead of scratching.
Try It For: Counter Surfing
Cats will naturally try to search for food and most enjoy getting up off the ground. This makes kitchen counters a wonderful place to explore. Not everyone minds this behavior, but if you want to minimize your cat stealing food or walking through dinner prep, work on your “yes” and “no”.
“Yes” for Counter Surfing
Meet your cat’s need for exploration and hunting through daily interactive play and enrichment. Having outlets for their curiosity and energy can do wonders for an active cat. Provide appropriate foraging (food searching) choices with food puzzles. Teach your cat that they can reliably find fun in other places.
For cats that love to be part of the activity, choose a raised perch in the kitchen to be the “cat spot” during meal prep. This could be a cat tree, a window perch, a stool or chair, or a piece of furniture that isn’t used for food. Having a specific spot that is off the ground can make it easier for your cat to forgo the counters. Place a comfy bed or blanket there and regularly leave treats on it. For some cats, this will be enough; others might need a food puzzle to entertain them or some specific training to learn to stay there.
“No” for Counter Surfing
Make sure you never leave food unattended and available for your cat to steal. If they learn that counter surfing sometimes pays, they will be much harder to dissuade later. This may include putting child-proof latches on cabinets or drawers.
You might also need deterrents to jumping onto the counters, especially if you want to work on this behavior when you aren’t present in the space. Try covering the counters with slippery plastic placemats or plastic sheeting. A carpet protector (for under desk chairs) can be turned upside down to make an uncomfortable texture to stand on. Don’t try to scare your cat, just make it less pleasant to hang out on the counters. You will need to be very consistent about covering the counters, at first, if you want deterrents to work, but over time you’ll be able to slowly remove them.
What More Can You Say “Yes” To?
You don’t have to live with annoying, damaging, or problematic cat behavior and recognizing your cat’s needs can help you solve it. By creating safe and appropriate outlets, you can let your cat be a cat without sacrificing your home or well-being. Try thinking of a “yes” for your cat’s rough play, annoying behavior during Zoom meetings, or anything else that has you saying “no!” You’ll find the path to a better-behaved, happier cat becomes clearer and easier.
If your cat has a behavior problem that you need help solving, consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.