Breaking Bad Habits in Your Cat

Bad habits. We all have some, and they can be pretty tough to break. When a cat or dog develops a bad habit or unwanted behavior, it can be even tougher to discourage it from continuing.loveyTake my own cat, Lovey Lovebug, for example. Lovey is a large Ocicat. He is tall and muscular, weighing in at a lean 15 pounds. When he sits on your lap, you feel it. He is extremely intelligent and very high energy. When he wants your attention, you know it!

My handsome boy is a little possessive of me, and living in a Cat Sanctuary of a home with my 17 others, he can sometimes be a little demanding about getting my undivided attention. Don’t get me wrong, they all get love and affection. Lovey just needs more at times.

He developed a new habit to get me alone; when I would go into the catbox room to scoop the litter, up this puma of a cat would jump onto my back and shoulders as I was crouched down scooping. Then he would begin to bite the top of my head as his giant paws would kneed my shoulders. Sweet and affectionate yes. But also very painful!

This went on night after night for about a week, and I really needed to stop this behavior. It was getting increasingly intense, and he was beginning to scare the other cats out of the room when we were alone in there together. A few of my friends suggested I shut him out of the room when I would scoop. Yes that sounds like a solution, but separating a cat from the litter box is not something I want to do at any time. That could easily result in marking issues and litter box avoidance, a far harder issue to deal with. (See When Kitty Won’t Use The Litter.)

The solution was to break that habit, and here is how we accomplished it:

  • I had mistakenly started off laughing and reaching up to pet Lovey whenever he would jump up. Big mistake! As long as a cat gets a payoff for a behavior, he is going to repeat it to obtain that reward. He pounced. I gave him love. This reinforced the behavior. So step one, I stopped giving him praise and affection when he jumped onto my back and shoulders.
  • Likewise, I used to let him stay there which again reinforced his action. I began standing up, which forced him to jump off my shoulders because I would do it in an unstable way. I threw his balance off, so down he would jump.
  • I then left the area, and did not talk to him. I simply left the room and did not give him any attention. Had I offered him affection someplace else at that moment, that again would have reinforced to him that he would get what he wanted by acting in this unwanted manner.

Simple actions derailed his behavior, and within a week he stopped cornering me in the litter box room, stopped pouncing onto my shoulders, and stopped chasing the other cats out of the vicinity when I was around.

Subtle shifts in your own behavior is often all it takes to break a bad habit, be it your own bad habit or that of you cat.