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Training Your Cat to Use the Scratching Post


A common concern among potential cat owners is - how do I get Fluffy to scratch at his scratching post and not the sofa? I was lucky. I had two bright kittens who showed me how it's done. Here's what I've learned.

The answer is part persistence, and part cat psychology! Scratching is normal feline behavior. It's part exercise and part "marking" behavior. Your cat stretches, has a nice vigorous scratch, and leaves the spot marked as "his". It also helps to rid the claws of old, shedded layers, but doesn't sharpen the claws, as many people believe.

The approach I've taken in training my cats is to establish which furniture is "mine" and which is "theirs". Cats are territorial creatures, so they understand this very well. To make this work, I have several pieces of kitty furniture available for them to enjoy, and then teach them which is which. Here are some hints.

Start young. Start training your cat while she is still a kitten, if possible. Scratching behavior begins about the time that your kitten is being weaned! Older cats can be trained too but may require longer, especially if they were not conditioned to using a scratching post before. Just be persistent, gentle but firm.

Choose a post that appeals to your cat. Each cat has his own preferences, and you may have to experiment a bit to figure out what this is. The standard vertical post should be tall enough for your cat to stretch his full length, and should be very solid. Your cat won't use a wobbly post. (Many posts in the stores don't fit these criteria.) My cats especially like to use carpet covered cat "furniture" with posts, barrels, and platforms, since these are large enough, solid, and offer a variety of surfaces to claw. They also nap and play on the furniture, helping to reinforce the idea that it is theirs.

Some cats prefer to claw on a horizontal surface, such as the living room carpet. Some will use sisal mats that they can stand on and claw. Many cats enjoy the inexpensive cardboard scratching boxes that lay flat on the floor. They come with small bags of catnip to provide additional incentive.

The best scratching material is thought to be sisal rope. Carpet is OK, according to my cats who seem to prefer it. Some cats like to scratch rough wood, such as a log with the bark still on it.

Place the post where the cat wants to use it. This is essential - a post placed in the basement next to the litter box won't get used. Cats often like to stretch and scratch after a nap, so place the post wherever she likes to nap. I highly recommend placing several posts around the house, wherever your cat likes to hang out, so a post is always within easy reach.

Some furniture seems to be irresistable to cats. I have a chair in my living room that is apparently the perfect shape, texture, and location for scratching. I solved the problem by placing a nice scratching post right next to the chair. I chose a color that blends with the furniture. Hey, it looks better than a clawed chair any day!

Use enticements and dissuasion. You can help interest your cat in his new scratching post by sprinkling or rubbing catnip on it, or by dangling a toy around for him to grab. Don't forget to reward him for using it. Tell him what a good boy he is - he understands your tone of voice and the affectionate rub on his head. You can even reward him with treats.

When he starts to scratch on the sofa (or chair or bed), you need to let him know that this is not allowed. I use my voice to train my cats. When I see (or hear!) inappropriate scratching, I say in a loud, low, booming voice "CLAWS!". This generally gets a startle response, which interrupts the scratching. Most cats get the message pretty quickly.

One of my cats, Jack, was particularly enamored of the chair in my living room. When he would start to scratch, I would boom "CLAWS!", pick him up, and put him in front of his sisal rope scratching post which was about 3 feet away. When he scratched there, I told him in warm, praising tones "what a good boy you are!". About the fourth time I had to say "CLAWS!" he stopped, walked over to the sisal post, and scratched. He got the message! (Of course, just like a small child, he disobeys on occasion just to tease me.)

Some folks use a water spray bottle to discipline their cat. I would recommend trying the voice method first. Spraying a cat with water is rather "insulting" and can produce bad feelings (and counter-productive behavior) in your cat.

Last Updated: April 15, 2014 (LET) PawSupport