Surprisingly, you may be sending a mixed message to your cat when attempting to train him or correct behavior issues. We’ve all done it at some point – we’ve unintentionally rewarded the cat for the very behavior we didn’t want him to display. How does this happen? It’s an easy and common mistake.
Communication Confusion and Your Cat
In an attempt to soothe a hissing cat who is trying to scratch or bite, the pet parent strokes and cuddles the animal. Keeping an animal calm and reducing fear are, of course, important, but if you stroke and cuddle an animal displaying an unwanted behavior you may actually send a confusing message. You were trying to communicate a message of comfort and calm but what actually got communicated was a reward for growling, hissing or attempting to bite and scratch. Calming and comforting a frightened cat is different. Provide comfort when the cat is obviously frightened, and do your best to put provide an escape, a hiding option, or make whatever is stressing the cat out, a little less stressful. For example, when at the veterinary clinic, set the cat up to feel less threatened so there won’t be as much hissing, growling or aggressive behavior. This may include less retraint, rather than scruffing the cat, or use a carrier that allows the cat to remain in the bottom half during exams. Allow the cat to remain somewhat hidden under the towel is another example of reducing fear.
The best way to not send mixed messages is to understand what it is that’s upsetting your cat and then create an environment that allows for choice or reduce the degree of threat.
Another example of a mixed message is when cat parents don’t want their cats on the counter but then kiss and cuddle them as they pick the cats up and place them back down on the floor. The message the cat receives is that being on the counter results in some pretty desirable attention.
Evaluate Your own Behavior Around Your Cat
As we go through the day with our cats, we probably send numerous mixed messages without realizing it. Perhaps the cat meows and we respond by putting food in the bowl in order to quiet him. He begs at the dinner table and someone tosses him some food so they can eat the rest of their dinner in peace. The list could go on.
If your cat is displaying a behavior you don’t want, pay attention to your own behavior and evaluate whether you’ve been sending mixed messages. Remember, reward and acknowledge only the behavior you want to see again.
Need More Information?
We’re sorry but Pam is unable to respond to questions or remarks posted in the comment section. If you have a question about cat behavior, you can find many answers in the articles Pam writes for the website as well as in her best-selling books.