Kittens certainly are one of the most delightful pets to have, providing us with plenty of entertainment as they romp and play, getting into mischief and some downright silly situations. It’s the mischief that concerns many owners, and they feel they must control it somehow.
Animal experts, including veterinarians, are often bombarded with questions from pet owners about “disciplining” their new kitten. Some of the most disturbing comments include references to spanking the poor little things!
Perhaps because humans are generally raised with discipline that often translates into a reward-and-punishment system, they believe it applies to animals as it does to children.
Reward and punishment are fast losing their acceptability in a good training environment, however, as people are beginning to notice it is less effective with animals. For that to be useful at all, the subject must have the ability to learn to make judgments about their own behavior. This requires the ability to use logic and to spend time thinking about things. Animals don’t do this. They live in the moment, in the “now.” Yes, they may remember that certain actions yield certain results, and they can learn from that. But if we’re supposed to be smarter than the animals, then it’s up to us to be the ones using logic and thinking about things.
One must NEVER use physical force, including spanking, on a kitten. It’s just not necessary, and can cause injuries, sometimes death. In fact, hitting any pet is never necessary. Try using a reward vs. no reward system instead.
The following common naughty kitten behaviors can easily be handled gently and lovingly by caring and patient owners:
1. Not using the litter box. Under normal circumstances, this should never be an issue at all. Kittens are taught by their mothers how to use the sand. If a kitten is not familiar with sand, or kitty litter, it’s usually because the little guy was removed from his mother too soon. Kittens need to be with their mothers for at least 3 months – 12 weeks – but this is not usually the way it’s done. People want the pleasure of teaching their own kitten themselves from the earliest time possible. Some even get a huge bang out of bottle feeding them, but this is logical only if the kitten has been orphaned and no suitable surrogate can be located.
If you have an orphan kitten, you will have to be a substitute mother and train him to use a litter box. It’s not difficult. Simply place the kitten into the box shortly after he’s eaten or drank, and stroke the rear end gently, speaking softly to encourage him. If you have other cats, allow the kitten to watch the older ones using the box. Cats learn by observation and imitation.
Probably the most important thing any cat or kitten owner can do to help ensure their pet will continue to use the litter box is to always keep it clean.
2. Scratching furniture. Kittens absolutely must scratch. They can’t help not doing it. It is up to you to provide the proper environment for them to stretch their toes and exercise their front legs and paws. If they are declawed at this time, it can affect the normal development of leg and paw muscles. However, declawing an adult cat has even more profound results and some cats never overcome them. Provide a scratching post or pad, and encourage them to use it by being calm and happy each time they do. Don’t bother with catnip yet; kittens aren’t sensitive to it until they are much older, if at all. Some cats don’t seem to notice catnip. If you catch your kitten scratching something he shouldn’t, simply pick him up and take him to the post. Don’t yell, don’t hit, and don’t become angry. This only teaches him that you can be unpredictable and fearsome. They seldom associate their action with your reaction.
3. Getting into things. All youngsters love and need to explore. It’s how they learn what’s in their world and how to navigate it. If not permitted to learn things in this way, their social skills or even survival skills will be stunted. However, as their guardians, it’s up to us to ensure they stay safe while having a good time as they learn. With kittens, we need to provide plenty of toys, hiding places, climbing opportunities, and best of all, together time, where they learn to trust and interact with you. Just remember to be gentle and considerate. Never play rough with a kitten, or you will be responsible for creating a little biting monster. It’s cute and not too painful to put up with their claws and teeth at 6 weeks old, but you do not want to wonder what happened to your gentle ball of fluff when he’s 2 years old and is drawing blood.
Next, once they are old enough to jump onto countertops, it’s time to nip that in the bud, or you may never stop them. The most effective tactics seem to be related to loud noises. Never hit a kitten off a counter. It could seriously injure him. You can continually lift him off and place him back on the floor, but most cats don’t seem to get it. Instead, make a loud noise. Slap the counter with something flat…a paddle, perhaps…or use a can of compressed air that blows a very loud horn. Sometimes just a blast of air will do the trick.
If a kitten’s environment is sufficiently interesting – and safe – they will be less likely to get into things that don’t concern them. Owners can help by “toddler-proofing” their home and protecting any possessions they want to keep intact.