In this week’s podcast episode, I spoke to feline behavior specialist, Dr. Sarah Ellis,  about how to train a cat. You read that right. Cats CAN be trained – and they learn much more than you might believe – they can be taught things that will make your life easier and increase your cat’s welfare, such as how to make sure your feline likes his cat carrier and how to ease their fears about going to the vet. Listen to the episode here.

Dr. Sarah Ellis doing some initial training to teach a kitten named Batman to be comfortable in and around the cat carrier. (photo credit: Peter Baumber)

Cats learn best using the positive reinforcement method – this is where you reward the desirable behavior you are seeking with a delicious treat, toy or praise. They do not respond well to punishment.

If you have a cat, you know there are times that your cat does things that are less than desirable, such as jumping up on the dining room table that is set for company, waking you up in the morning by rattling papers, or scratching and chewing on furniture. (Oh, yes, my cat Willie did that. Chewed the corners right off of my bedroom dresser drawers that had been left a bit pulled out, in order to get my attention and wake me up while sleeping. )

A method that has become popular among cat owners when their cat is doing unwanted behaviors is to use a squirt bottle to shoot water at the cat to stop or deter them from the negative behaviors – like jumping up on counters and meowing in the morning to get attention.

Because this method is common, the perception is that this is an acceptable way to fix a problem and a good way to train a cat not to do certain things. Actually it is not.

What this technique does do –  is create frustration in the cat, cause them to be afraid of you which can affect your bond with your cat, (she needs to be able to trust you, not run from you out of fear,) and most counterproductive is that punishing teaches the cat to engage in the behavior when you’re not around.

What you need to know is no matter how troublesome a behavior is to you, it has a purpose for the cat. They do not do what they do to make you mad – yes, they may want your attention but they are not trying to piss you off. Take for instance if you squirt them for scratching on your furniture. Scratching is a normal and natural need for a cat, it can’t and should not be trained out of them. If your cat gets punished every time she does a normal behavior that is bred into her, she will continue to do it covertly.

What to do instead? First you’ll want to think about why and when your cat is exhibiting a particular behavior – then you can plan how to manage it.   The best way to preserve your sanity and your cat’s best welfare, is to manage, not punish a situation.

Wrecking your furniture? Do your homework and make sure you have the right kind and placement of a scratching post for your cat. There is much information about this online. You may need to use double-sided sticky tape on the furniture to save the arms of your favorite chair until your cat is happily using the scratching post.

In my case with Willie, his chewing on drawers was a way to wake me up before the alarm clock, which worked for him.  He got my attention, I would wake up to get him to stop. What I had to do, to break this habit, was make sure all the drawers were pushed completely in before going to sleep and then when he attempted the new thing, to bat at papers on the dresser which made a lovely, annoying sound, I had to remove and put any and all papers away,  and leave nothing out that made noise.

Dr. Sarah Ellis’s cat Cosmos, using a home-made puzzle feeder. (photo credit: Peter Baumber)

And most important, I had to start COMPLETELY ignoring him when he made any noise. Listen up, if you have a cat that meows relentlessly to wake you up. You cannot give in at all. Don’t open your eyes, don’t move a muscle, and don’t yell at your cat. This is all a form of attention –it’s negative, yet still attention for the cat. Any response on your part is reinforcing the behavior and they’ll keep doing it.

I had to think about, was Willie too hungry to wait one more hour to eat? I added a bit more food to his diet by leaving some kibble out in a puzzle feeder he could play with in the wee hours and finally, Willie realized I was not going to get up before 7:00 a.m. – waiting one more hour would not kill him, and he finally cut it out. Final REM sleep and dreams restored.

Regarding the cat who jumps up on the kitchen counters, listen to what Sarah Ellis, feline behavior specialist and co-author of the book, “The Trainable Cat,” suggests you do about this. It’s in Episode 43, Segment 2. Raising Your Paws podcast.  

Show Notes for Raising Your Paws Podcast, Episode 43.

Title: The Reasons Dogs Investigate Our Private Parts & Why You’ll Want to Train Your Cat.

Do you get embarrassed when you meet a new dog and the first thing they want to do is bury their nose in your crotch? Why do they have to do that? In this episode, I’ll tell you what the dog is doing – and it’s no different than what they do with other dogs – they’re simply finding out information about you – but not in the way you probably think.

Whoever hears about cat trainers? – And the common belief is that cats can’t be trained. But it’s not true. They can – and the benefits for an owner’s sanity and the cat’s welfare are plenty. Feline behavior specialist, Sarah Ellis, from International Cat Care, and co-author of the book, The Trainable Cat: A Practical Guide to Making Life Happier for You and Your Cat, talks about why and how to train cats. Find out what to do so that your cat likes its carrier and how to make going to the vet easier.

When you’ve had too much to drink and wake up with a hangover, someone may suggest the “hair of the dog” – meaning take another drink! How did dog hair get associated with curing a hangover?   I’ll explain where this expression comes from.

Please rate and review the podcast. It really helps! Easy links to iTunes and Stitcher at:

Resources for the Episode.

Source for the Story about dog’s investigating our bodies. “How Dogs Think” by Stanley Coren.

Dr. Sarah Ellis.

Guest Speaker: Dr. Sarah Ellis, feline behavior specialist at International Cat Care.

International Cat Care Website.
Here are some links to the various things talked about in the show as resources from International Cat Care.

The handling videos can be found here on the link below:

Their YouTube channel

The advice section of their website can be found at wwww./

In terms of veterinary clinics being more cat friendly – the scheme in the US is run by the American Association of Feline Practitioners and is called Cat Friendly Practice. Here is the link:

Dr. Sarah Ellis Facebook page.

How to order “The Trainable Cat.” By John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis.

Source for story about the expression, “hair of the dog, “A Fine Kettle of Fish and 150 other Animal Expressions”. By Michael Macrone.