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What Behavior are You Reinforcing?

Sometimes the reason a cat continues to display unwanted behavior is because we unknowingly actually reinforce it. Of course, we’re not doing it deliberately but the bottom line is the cat receives a message that says keep doing what you’re doing. These mistakes we make are actually very common and even the most experienced cat parent slips up when it comes to sending consistent messages.

The Messages You Send

Think about when you’ve offered your cat a treat, his meal or even some attention to quiet him down due to his relentless vocalizations. You’re working at the kitchen counter or sitting at the computer and he meows and meows for attention. You pet him as he meows or maybe you even pick him up, put him on your lap or cuddle him. What’s the message the cat just received? Relentless meowing results in a reward. Even just shouting at him to be quiet gives him some form of attention for the behavior.

quote from Joe Bonsall


You’re asleep in bed and your cat meows and walks back and forth across your chest in the wee hours of the morning. Do you pet him to quiet him down? Talk to him? Or, maybe you just get up and put some food in his food bowl so he’ll let you get a few more hours of sleep. Again, the message received by the cat is that the behavior displayed results in a reward.

It’s important not to send mixed messages. Instead of giving attention to the cat for unwanted behavior, ignore him and reward only for displaying desired behavior. If your cat meows constantly, reward him with a treat, praise, play or petting when he’s quiet. Even if his quiet behavior lasts a very short time, you need to switch your training method to catch the behavior you DO want and reward that. Once you start doing this you can increase the amount of time (in small increments) your cat needs to be quiet before a reward is offered. This sends a clear message to your cat that being quiet is the behavior that will result in something good and meowing will result in nothing at all. Your cat is very smart so it won’t take long for him to realize the behavior that has a more beneficial pay-off.

One comment

  1. Hi my partner moved in a year ago,I have a nervous timed cat Vinny he’s 14 to 15 in age,with asma,my partner lifted up a duvet it freaked out my cat been feeding him he only comes in the house when my partner is out he is scared of my partner since this happened my cat refuses to come in the house when my partner’s home he’s been sleeping in the woods behind my house I love them both I don’t know what to do is there any advice I can help me with I’m so upset and stressed over this

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