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Punishment & praise

Like most animals, cats respond to both reinforcements and aversives. Put simply, a reinforcer will make the animal want to repeat the behaviour whereas an aversive will make the animal less likely to want to repeat the behaviour. These techniques can help cats better understand what behaviour is appropriate.

Positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the presentation of something pleasant or rewarding to the cat immediately following a desired behaviour. A well-timed reinforcer will make the behaviour more likely to occur in the future. Your reward should occur immediately after the behaviour has occurred, as this will help your cat associate the reward with the appropriate behaviour. A reinforcer can be anything that your pet will work for. It needs to be something that your cat enjoys and will try time and time again to get that reward. Common reinforcers for cats can be food, pats or a game with a favourite toy.

If using treats, your treats should be small, soft and easy to digest. Usually a bit of cooked chicken or steak is well received.

When training your cat, it is very important that you remain consistent. If teaching your cat a behaviour, every family member must use the same commands and always reward the desired response. Also remember that your cat should be rewarded every time it performs the correct behaviour. This will create a really strong understanding of what you want it to do.


Punishment, or an aversive, is something unpleasant immediately following a behaviour, which makes it less likely to occur again. Like praise, punishment must be delivered immediately after the behaviour or while the cat is ‘caught in the act’. This will enable a clear understanding for the cat of what is expected. It is important to understand that animals, including cats, don’t have a feeling of guilt or a moral sense of right and wrong. Usually what we interpret as “guilty” looks are actually submissive postures from our pets.

Whilst we have to be careful with our use of aversives, they can also be quite useful when training your cat to ‘stay away’ from something you don’t want them to go near (eg: scratching furniture, jumping on benches). You can use textures, smells and sounds as aversives to encourage your cat not to return, however, it is important that cats also have an outlet for its natural behaviors such as climbing, scratching and hiding.

It is important that the aversives used are able to deter the cat without the presence of yourself. If you are always in the picture, your cat will quickly learn that the behaviour is only unacceptable when humans are around. It is also important to never hit or use physical punishment with your cat. It is ineffective and can lead to hand-shyness or fear of the owner.

Remember that if your house is not ‘cat proof’ to prevent unwanted behaviour and alternatives are not implemented for your cat, it is unreasonable to expect it to understand what is wanted. Therefore, until your house is ‘cat proof’ it is always recommended to place your cat in a confined area where they are away from damaging household goods.

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