Mother cats represent the quintessential parent.
Giving birth to a litter of kittens that don't even have eyesight for nearly two weeks, mother cats oversee every aspects of these little creatures' earliest survival and education – from finding the milk source to developing bathroom habits to learning hunting skills.
Following 10-12 weeks of receiving expert parenting at the hands of their mother, kittens finally become ready to cultivate a human relationship. But what then must we, as humans, do to ensure a smooth transition and a continuation of the necessary lifelong habits the mother cat began to instill?
The so-called sensitive period of development for kittens occurs between two and seven weeks of age. During this time, a kitten is most influenced by its environmental conditions. But make no mistake – despite this period taking place under the mother cat's guidance, humans play a significant role in the developmental journey from kitten to cat.
Happy and confident adult cats are the product of good decisions and correct treatment from birth until the juvenile period (around six months of age). And by adhering to the advice contained within these tips for training a kitten, you can have a lasting impact on your kitten's long-term contentment.
1. Convert Your Kitten Into a Socially Friendly Cat
Ideally, the process for socializing a kitten should begin immediately for new owners. Generally-speaking, “the younger the better” is an appropriate mantra to apply when determining when to start conditioning your feline for affection, so long as the kitten is at least 10-12 weeks old and has been properly weaned from her mother. Raise your kitten in a household marked by kindness and absent of physical punishment.
But even if your kitten is older or has already begun to exude reclusive traits, it's not too late to provide both proper rehabilitation and life-defining socialization:
- Arrange for rehabilitation to occur in quiet circumstances, such as you sitting in a large room armed with treats.
- Without moving from your chair, toss a treat in your cat's direction, and continue doing so while gradually luring your cat closer.
- Entice the cat to take the treat from your hand, gradually moving your hand toward your lap, and only releasing the treat if the cat puts its paws on your lap.
2. Everything in Moderation
As with many aspects of life, moderation is key when it comes to interacting with your kitten. If kittens are ignored, they tend to become self-sufficient to a fault. Conversely, too much attention can have negative consequences as well, such as the development of over-attachment or attention-seeking behaviors.
Considering these extremes from a handling perspective, the absence of handling your kitten will assuredly contribute to longterm aloofness, but handling your kitten roughly and excessively can be equally detrimental. Handle your kitten in a manner she will appreciate – acceptance, relaxation and purring are positive signs. However, resistance and an attempt to escape your company indicate it is time to stop.
3. Focus on Using Positive Reinforcement to Reward Acceptable Behavior
Punishment teaches a kitten nothing, except how to avoid said punishment. Furthermore, punishment after the fact is not only inappropriate, but also pointless. Consequently, kitten owners should focus on being patient and considerate while using positive reinforcement to reward acceptable behavior.
Reward your cat for positive behavior by providing something your cat really likes to eat as a food reward, such as small pieces of tuna or chicken. Conducting training prior to mealtime may serve to increase the session's effectiveness, as a hungry cat is more likely to be interested in food rewards.
4. Consider Clicker Training
With the new wave of pet training focused exclusively on positive or reward-based encouragement, a clicker device has emerged as a viable training tool. Clicks made by small plastic clickers represent the most consistent way of acknowledging the successful accomplishment of a behavior. While the clicking sound may be meaningless at first, it won't take long for your kitten to realize the sound signals something positive, such as receiving a treat.
Once this association has been drawn by your kitten, the clicker can be used to reward any desired behavior instantly, accurately and even from a distance. And it doesn't have to be overly time-consuming. First, pair a click with a reward; then, begin to click and award a treat only when your kitten has engaged in a desirable behavior. Before long, your kitten will draw the connection between the clicker and the reward, thus you will be able to decide what behaviors you wish to reward (and therefore, promote) and what you prefer to ignore.
5. Litter Box Training Should Be Simple
Litter box training is fundamentally important…but in most cases, it proves not to be overly difficult for your kitten to master. Most kittens have natural instincts to bury their wastes and will know exactly what to do when they encounter the right litter and litter box in your home.
After your kitten eats, place her in the litter box. You can gently nudge her paws to scratch the litter to encourage your kitten to scratch her typical spot to eliminate. If your kitten uses the restroom, shower her with praise. If she does not go, there's no need to panic – simply repeat the process one-half hour later.
6. Communication is Key
One of the best ways to promote a healthy relationship is through clear communication. Having verbal communications that your kitten understands is extremely helpful and represents a positive, attainable goal.
While a kitten obviously isn't born with the innate ability to understand English, she does have a knack for comprehending tones, learning over time whether the human addressing her is happy and calm or angry and agitated. For this reason, most communication with your kitten should be in the form of neutral tones, with the remainder originating from the high, singsong praise category.
Individual words also will come to mean something to your kitten as she grows up. It's a good idea to use certain words to cue key behaviors. A kitten's vocabulary can be expanded over time until certain spoken words are useful in daily communication. Cats can learn many words but never really understand language, so don't expect too much of them in this respect. And when the spoken word leads to the requisite behavior, a reward should follow.
7. Addition is Not Always a Net Gain
Adding a kitten to a household with other cats? While there's certainly a chance the cats will flourish together and enjoy each other's company, the possibility also exists that the cats fight continuously and ultimately are unable to tolerate each other's existence.
When two cats are apparently incompatible, it may be possible, working with a behaviorist, to defuse overt aggression and allow the pair to live together in mutual indifference, if not harmony. In many instances, even mutual indifference would be an acceptable conclusion to the owners.
More Resources for Training a Kitten