Does kitty dive under the bed whenever the doorbell rings? Or maybe he stands his ground and hisses whenever company comes to visit? Maybe you even have a cat who offers a pre-emptive strike and attempts to immediately sink his teeth into the flesh of anyone who dares enter your home. Here’s a training exercise you can do with your cat to help ease both of these situations.
Help Kitty Feel Good in the Environment
First, you’ll need to do some preliminary work with your cat in the form of interactive playtime. Get a fishing pole-type toy and conduct play sessions. Do these play sessions in various parts of the home but make sure you do a good number of them in the room where company would normally enter. The more play sessions you do, the more your cat begins to have positive associations with all rooms in the home.
You can also use clicker training in this situation. Begin by getting your cat comfortable with the process. Once he gets the concept you’ll then be able to click and reward him for any positive steps in the right direction. Work on training him to come when called or to go to a specific location in the room – away from the door. Have a cat tree or window perch in the room so you can train your cat to go to that comforting spot that contains only his scent.
You’ll need a volunteer for the next part of the training exercise. Ask a friend to visit. The purpose of this visit is to show your cat that a visitor to the home is not a threat in any way. Ask your friend to come in and sit down without making any eye contact with your cat. She also shouldn’t touch or interact with the cat in any way.
The Scaredy Cat
If your cat runs and hides, casually go to him and conduct a low-intensity play session. Don’t drag him out from under the bed or poke the toy in his direction. If he’s under the bed, just sit on the floor nearby and casually move the toy in an enticing way. The message you want to convey is that everything is fine and that there’s no need to be afraid. You cat may peek out to play or he may stay hidden. It doesn’t matter. The message will reach him. If he does come out, play with him. If he peeks his head out from under the bed, click and reward. Any baby steps should be rewarded. Then, go back to your guest.
If your cat ventures out of the bedroom and makes an appearance in the room where your visitor is located, click and reward. You can also have the interactive toy nearby and conduct another play session. Keep the toy a good distance from the visitor though so your cat can stay within his comfort zone.
If you do this exercise a few times a week, your cat may begin to realize that visitors aren’t threatening. Just make sure all guests don’t attempt to interact with kitty or even look at him.
The Watch Cat
For a cat who takes on an aggressive approach with visitors, you can do the same technique. Make sure the visitor makes absolutely no attempt to interact. Click and reward the cat for looking at you or moving away from the door. Call him to a specific location (such as his cat tree) and click and reward him when he responds.
Conduct a low-intensity play session with him or offer treats when he’s in the room with the visitor. You can even feed him a meal while the visitor is there. Just be sure the cat is far enough away so he feels safe and secure.
A Place of His Own
Regardless of whether your cat is a scaredy cat or a watch cat, he’ll appreciate having a hiding place. To keep him in the room instead of having him disappear into a far off bedroom, provide an “A” frame or donut-shaped bed so he can feel protected and hidden. If you already have a cat tree in the room and your cat doesn’t feel secure enough, place the “A” frame bed on one of the perches. That way he’ll feel secure because he’s on an elevated location but also hidden inside the cozy bed.
Need More Help?
You can find more specific information and step-by-step techniques for helping your cat become more comfortable with visitors, in Pam’s books. Starting From Scratch covers behavior problems in adult cats. Think Like a Cat is a comprehensive behavior and healthcare manual.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is the star of Psycho Kitty airing on Discovery UK. She is author of seven best-selling books on cat behavior including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. Think Like a Cat has become known as the cat bible. Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting. In addition to her television series and public speaking engagements, Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN. Cat Behavior Associates offers private cat behavior appointments on a limited basis. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.