Have you ever found yourself thinking that your cat was behaving out of spite or because she was mad at you? If you have, you’re not alone. This is something I hear on a daily basis when people call our office about a behavior problem.
Your Cat Isn’t Being Spiteful
The truth is, your cat isn’t planning ways to make you mad or exhibiting a behavior just to spite you. She doesn’t eliminate outside of the litter box, climb the curtains, scratch the furniture or knock things off the table as part of a plot to irritate her human family members. If you think misbehaviors are the result of spite, I can make a prediction as to what will happen:
1. Due to your inaccurate assumption regarding her behavior you’ll misinterpret her true motivation.
2. The bond you have with your cat will suffer.
3. Any correction you attempt to solve the problem will be ineffective and probably even counter-productive.
Your Cat’s Point of View
The key to figuring out what’s happening is to look at the situation from your cat’s point of view. The reason I wrote the book Think Like a Cat was because too many people miss the true motivation behind a cat’s behavior. If you don’t understand why a cat displays a behavior you won’t be able to implement the correct behavior modification. To be a problem solver you have to look at what the cat’s behavior is accomplishing. Behaviors aren’t repeated unless they perform a function. It doesn’t mean the owner likes the end result of the behavior, but from the cat’s point of view, the behavior makes sense and provides a pay-off. A cat who scratches the furniture isn’t doing it to punish you for coming home late from work, or to deliberately destroy your brand new sofa.
Scratching is a normal, natural behavior for a cat. If she’s scratching on a particular piece of furniture it’s because that piece meets her needs more effectively than the post you bought her (if you even have a scratching post). If there’s an unused scratching post nearby then that means it isn’t one that kitty feels can do the job. It doesn’t mean she’s ignoring it because she’s spiteful. The post might just be too short, too wobbly, or covered in an ineffective material such as soft carpeting.
Yelling at your cat, squirting her with water, smacking her or chasing her away won’t solve the problem. It only creates a secondary one because now it’s added anxiety into the environment. Your cat, confused by your behavior, may start to avoid you out of fear.
Use Correct Behavior Modification
So how do you correct a behavior problem? First, you have to promise me you’ll stop assuming the behavior is bad, spiteful or willfully disobedient. Then, follow these three steps:
1. Figure out what the purpose is for the behavior from the cat’s point of view.
2. Provide an alternative that is of the same or greater value (in the above scratching example it would mean getting the type of post that will meet your cat’s needs and placing it by the scratched piece of furniture).
3. Reward your cat when she displays the desired behavior.
Remember, think like a cat in order to solve the problem!
Need more Help?
For more specifics on effective behavior modification, refer to Pam’s books.
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.