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Ask the Trainer: My Cat Breaks Things!

IMG_6396Dear Jennifer,
My 9-year old kitty, Desmond, likes to break things to get my attention. He will stand on a table and start swiping anything that isn’t nailed down onto the floor, often breaking things. He once jumped on the kitchen counter just after I’d washed dishes, and swiped all of my glass wear onto the floor, one glass at a time. I caught him leaning over and watching the pieces shatter, then going back in for the next glass! (lol). I’ve started keeping counters and tables clear of things, but he just finds other ways to break things. Aside from clearing my home of all breakables, Is there something I can do to train him to just meow to let me know when he needs something instead of breaking things to get my attention?

-Jennifer

Dear Jennifer,

I have a rescue Bengal, Ari, who does similar things.  In the case of my cat part of it is eliciting my attention and part is simply because it is fun.  Each time I respond to his antics I am reinforcing the behavior. I am sure the same is happening with Desmond!

First of all, you need to give Desmond some other outlets for his creativity.  I love food puzzle toys for this.  Some of my favorites are the Kong Wobbler for small dogs, the Cat Treat Maze by Nina Ottosson and the Treat Stick for small dogs. Fill them with Desmond’s dry food and put one out at different intervals throughout the day.

If there are times of the day he is more likely to strike I would do some preemptive play or training.  To start off with I would teach Desmond to sit and to come when he is called.  I use a clicker for this.  The click simply marks the moment he is doing the right thing followed immediately by a reward.

To teach the sit take a treat and lure Desmond into a sit and click and treat when he sits.  Once he is offering a sit add the word, “sit”. Now ask for a sit every time you want to interact with Desmond.  If you are consistent he should start offering a sit to get your attention.

To teach him to come when he is called either condition his name of the word, “come” by simply pairing the word with a treat.  You simply say “Desmond” and give him a treat. Do this throughout the day for several days.  When he is getting excited about hearing his name you are ready to add the clicker.  Take a couple of steps away and say his name. As he moves forward to get his treat, click, and then give him his treat when he gets to you.  Slowly increase your distance over the next couple of days and or weeks.

Now when you hear Desmond getting into trouble simply call him to you, ask for a sit and then reward him with attention, play and or training.  If he is vocal and you want to train him to meow you can click and treat him for meowing.  Then ask for a meow instead of the sit.

Continue to click and treat him for any and all wanted behavior he gives you instead of breaking the glasses.  Before long he will be using his new found ways to get your attention!

Thank you for the question!

Jennifer Mauger, CPDT-KSA

Jennifer is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and owner of both L’Chaim Canine and L’Chaim Feline.  Her interest in working with cats began after going into homes where, although she was working with the dog, Jennifer saw that the cat was also in need of behavior modification and mental enrichment.  She wanted to be able to advocate for the cats from the point of view of a professional.  For more training tips and tricks,  follow her on Facebook by clicking here.

Do you have a training question for Jennifer? Ask her by clicking here.

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