Cat training 101: From using a litter box to basic commands

Last Updated June 2019

Just as a dog must be taught commands and punished or rewarded for their behavior, a cat needs careful attention to be well-behaved. Many cats are prone to aggression or simply have bad habits like jumping on the kitchen counter. Training a cat takes work, but both you and your cat will be happier for it.

While training a cat is a challenge, it’s not impossible. We’ve broken basic cat training into three simplified sections so you can help your feline friend become a part of your home.

How to train your cat to use a litter box

Cats are fairly self-sufficient, and fortunately, litter training a kitten or cat is more about keeping litter boxes clean and appealing than actually teaching your cat to use them.

How many litter boxes do you need?

The classic formula is one more box than you have cats. Yes, even one cat needs two boxes.

With multiple cats, having separate boxes allows each cat to have their own box. Having more than one box per cat gives your pets options and increases the likelihood that they’ll find a “clean” area. Cats are neat freaks and will be picky.

One cat requires two litter boxes because they may choose to do their different types of business in different boxes.

Box placement

The location of a litter box can have a huge impact on your cat’s likelihood to use it. A litter box should never be placed in a location that is cold, dark, or far away from the rest of the house. This may go against your instincts, as litter boxes can be quite smelly. However, the more central and appealing the location of a litter box, the less likely your cat is to look elsewhere for bathroom options.

If you have several cats, you should have separate locations for litter boxes rather than one main bathroom. Cats are territorial — they like to have different bathrooms, just like humans do.

Cleaning

You should clean your litter box as often as every few days. Cats are particular and will be sure to let you know if the litter box needs to be refreshed.

It’s also important to dump out the litter and fill it with fresh litter every few weeks. You can greatly reduce the smell by occasionally cleaning the inside of the box, making the litter area much more pleasant for you and your cats.

Preventing bad behavior

Scratching furniture, meowing loudly, biting people, and going where they shouldn’t are all examples of bad cat behavior that can drive anyone up the wall. All of these should be dealt with in ways that guide your cat toward better behavior.

Dealing with aggression

If your cat is aggressive, it may be because they were played with roughly as a kitten. Teaching a cat that biting and scratching is okay can be difficult to undo. If your cat does see your hands as toys, there are a few things you can do:

  • Move away from the cat when they are in a playful or aggressive mood.

  • Allow the cat to come to you, and don’t pet them when they’re feisty.

  • Look for cues like dilated eyes or a swishing tail, both of which indicate aggression.

Cats are more likely to respond to and learn from positive reinforcement than from punishment. Giving treats and attention for good behavior is more likely to discourage your cat from behaving poorly.

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Protecting your furniture

It can be aggravating when your cat feels the need to sharpen their claws on the corner of your new couch. There are two main ways to deal with this:

  • Offer a scratching post or a cat tree. More scratching targets in several areas can reduce the chances that your cat goes for furniture.

  • Put double-sided tape on the targeted furniture. This discourages cats all the time — not only when you’re there to scold them.

Quieting your cat

A cat that meows incessantly (be it night or day) may have been taught that this is acceptable by being rewarded with food, attention, or a vocal response. To keep your cat quiet, try these tricks:

  • Never feed your cat outside of their normal feeding time — especially if they are meowing for food.

  • Give your cat plenty of attention throughout the day, and make sure they have toys to play with at night.

  • Make sure your cat isn’t meowing an uncharacteristic amount, as this can be a sign of pain or a medical issue.

Teaching your cat commands

Training a cat to respond to commands is challenging, but not impossible. You will need a few cat treats or a handful of cat food.

Calling your cat by name

While near your cat, say your cat or kitten’s name so they turn in your direction. Then, hold your hand out with a treat and say “come” or repeat the cat’s name. Give the cat the treat, and repeat the process until your cat responds when called.

Teaching your cat fetch

This trick should be taught after a cat knows to come when called. Find a small toy that your cat likes to carry in their mouth. Throw the toy a short distance, then hold out your hand and call your cat. If your cat doesn’t come, you can entice them with a treat.

Other tricks

Cats like to follow your hands with their eyes, especially if they suspect you are holding a treat. You can teach a cat commands like “sit” and “spin” by saying the command and using your hand to guide them. Always give the cat a treat for following a command to reinforce their good behavior.

The cat trainer’s buying guide

If you are looking to improve your cat’s behavior, here are a few items you should consider:

  • High quality cat litter can keep both you and your cat happy and prevent odors.

  • Cat toys may prevent your cat from meowing at night or attacking other household objects during the day.

  • For teaching commands, cat treats are a must-have.

  • A cat tree doubles as a scratching post and a comfortable space for your cat to sleep and play.
Written by:
  • Peter
    Peter
    Writer