Cats naturally need to scratch surfaces and if you want to protect your furniture or carpeting, you need to know how to train a cat to use a scratching post.
Cats are trainable creatures but their learning method may not fit everybody. First of all, most cats don’t like to be directly told to do or not to do something. Instead, they should be manipulated into thinking that particular rule was their own idea. But how can you do that? It is hard to see the furniture and carpeting that you worked so hard for is getting shredded. But before we answer how to train a cat to use a scratching post, we need to have some basic information as to why cats feel the need to scratch surfaces.
Why Do Cats Need Scratching Posts?
Cats generally scratch the surfaces for two reasons: 1) to leave their scents using the glands under their paws, and 2) to leave physical marks so that other cats know whose territory it is. This is their way of communication and warning that the area belongs to them. That’s why the scratching post needs to be somewhere with a high traffic or somewhere visible to the cat eye.
Another reason why cats scratch surfaces is that they like to stretch their muscles. Cats use scratching behavior to stretch their muscles especially in their toes, feet, shoulders and backs. So it is important to choose or build a scratching post according to your cat’s size.
Where to Place the Scratching Post?
As mentioned earlier cats use scratching posts to warn other cats about their territories therefore they prefer high traffic places such as where they enter or leave a room or in a prominent area of the home. An important point on how to train a cat to use a scratching post is that cats don’t really care how you like the places of your furniture.
Cats do things the way they want, not the other way around. You need to teach them the way their mothers teach. If you try to train a cat as you would with a dog or even a human child, it may prove to be an extremely difficult task. Try to understand their point of view and think like a cat.
There are some specific times cats feel the urge to scratch. When they wake up from a nap is one of them. You can use this knowledge to your advantage placing the post near your cat’s favorite sleeping spots. This way they may use the scratching post as soon as they wake up seeing that it is the closest thing that is appropriate for scratching.
Also, there may be some places where your cat is already used to scratch such as the side of a sofa or a specific sot on your carpet. You may cover those places with materials that your cat won’t scratch and place the scratching post in front of them or if the spot is a carpet you may place a scratching pad on top of the spot so when they go there the next time for a relaxing scratching session, they would have no option but to use the post or the pad.
Another important thing on the placement of the scratching posts is to place multiple posts on different areas around the home. Examine the places where your cat scratches. They may provide you valuable information on how and what type of scratching surface to put. Are the scratch marks high or low? Are they vertical or horizontal? Are they in a hidden corner or may be under a bed? You may use these kinds of information to place your scratching posts or pads to save your furniture.
How to Draw a Cat’s Interest to the Scratching Post?
It is important to use incentives to lure your cat to use the scratching post or pad so in a sense the hunter becomes the prey. The most common material used in tricking cats to use a specific object is catnip. Although some cats are not interested in catnip, most of them go crazy for it. You may sprinkle some cat nip on the base and on top of the scratching post so your cat feels the texture of the post and understand it is a good surface to scratch.
Another incentive to help your kitty to discover the scratching post or pad is playing on and around it. You may use a wand type toy to get your cat play on and around the scratching post. As it reaches and dives for the toy, it will eventually discover the nice feeling the scratching post provides. Another way is to place the kitty’s favorite toys on top of the post to trick it into climbing the post.
One of the easiest ways to have your little friend get used to the scratching post or pad is using treats. Have some in your pocket and give it some treats when it shows interest in the post such as sniffing it or placing its paws on it. Be consistent with your behavior and you will realize that your cat is also consistent with its behavior. Alternatively you may place treats on top of the post like you do with toys.
If your cat has never used a scratching post before, you may try placing it horizontally in order to introduce the post to your cat. Using the above methods such as using catnip, playing on the post or using treats with a horizontally placed scratching post may help with the training. After a few days you may place the post vertically.
What Doesn’t Work?
People try to grab their cats’ paws and place them on a scratching post. This doesn’t work most of the time. Keep in mind that cats don’t like to be pushed around and from their perspective, you are trying to establish some kind of superiority over them, not trying to teach them something.
Negative training methods are also widely used without any results. People try to associate bad behaviors with unwanted consequences in cats’ minds spraying water to their faces, using cans full of coins to create loud noises to scare them, yelling at them or even hitting them. This type of conditioning effort have negative effects on cats.
By applying negative training methods, you stress your cat and as always actions have reactions. This stressful situation may result in consequences you may find unacceptable. Your cat might start urinating around the house, become aggressive, scratch or damage the furniture, defecate outside the litterbox or even on your clothes. They may become withdrawn or even stop eating which may have serious negative impacts on their health.