We might have done it all. Maybe unconsciously, without thinking it through. Maybe it was an outlet for out frustration and anger, because we don’t understand our cats? So that’s why I have 4 reasons for you why you should not punish and what to do instead.
The spray bottle
I’m pretty sure you’ve used it on your cat before, that famous spray bottle. Has it helped to make your cat not do it anymore? Or do you still have to get up to spray your cat? Big chance it hasn’t helped at all. Your cat doesn’t know why it’s punished and the bad behavior might only get worse. Let alone it’s cat-friendly.
Dragging their nose through their pee
If hope you have never done this. I don’t even know why this is used to prevent your cat to pee outside the box again. Most likely, your cat is in pain and your punishing him for it. Why it doesn’t work? Your cat is going to be afraid of you and will associate peeing with something bad. And that’s not what we want, right? Your cat doesn’t understand why you push his nose in his own pee.
Yelling and hitting
I think this is an outlet for us humans, an outlet for our frustration because we don’t know why out cat is doing what he does. And as you might have noticed, hitting, yelling and cussing doesn’t get you far either. The behavior might get worse and your cat will only distance himself from you.
Count to 10, take a deep breath and contact a cat behaviorist.
This goes together with the argument that the mothercat uses this too to punish her kittens. But let me tell you a secret: a mother cat only does this to move her babies. And she doesn’t pick them up by their scruff, but by their necks. She doesn’t use it to punish her kids.
Let’s not forget that his way of punishment is painful for your cat. If you lift him (think about a cat that weight around 4 to 5 kilo’s), this can be extremely painful and it can do a lot of harm to the muscles in his neck.
If you really, really, really have to scruff a cat: support his bottom.
“But it works!”
This is something I hear a lot. That the spray bottle or another way of punishment works. They still have to spray the cat or get up. Usually, that does make the cat stop. But your cat is still doing it!
If your cat is still doing it, it means that it doesn’t work at all. If you can put away your spray bottle and never use it again, then it has worked. But it’s not a cat-friendly way.
Why is punishment useless?
That’s because cats are unable to link the punishment to what they have done “wrong”. This is not because they refuse to understand it, but they simply can’t. Your cat is showing natural behavior and this behavior can be because your cat is bored, fearful or stressed out, but also because of your pain. So actually you’re punishing your cat because he is a cat and you lack to meet his needs, or because he is in pain.
Punishment usually leads to a weaker bond between your and your cat. He will get scared of you and his behavior might get worse. Or he will simply continue or do it when you’re not around.
Then what to do instead?
Of course, your can’t just let your cat climb your curtains. You also don’t want to punish him, but something has got to happen to stop the behavior. And how you can do that?
It sounds simple (but it isn’t): Prevent the behavior. You have to figure out why he is showing the behavior you don’t like. Here are a few examples:
Does he hang in the curtains a lot? Maybe he wants to climb, but there is no alternative to do this. Or this is his way to get rid of his built up energy when it happens during a crazy moment in which he races through the living room. Place a (bigger) scratching post near the window on which he can climb on instead and make sure he has an outlet for his energy (play).
Does he always sit on the kitchen counter? Then he might prefer to sit high. Or when he is on the counter he can look out of the window or he has been giving food on the counter. As an alternative you can place a big scratching next to the counter and make sure there is no food left out on the kitchen counter. Make sure that the scratching post is much more fun than the counter and reward him when he’s on there.
Does your cat like to grab your ankles when he you walk by? Then there’s a big chance that your cat is bored. Really, really bored! The only solution for that is to do more with your cat: playing, clicker training, food puzzle, make him tired!
Tip: It’s never a bad idea to have your cat checked out by the vet first to sure he is not sick instead.