How to Handle Bad Behavior in Cats

Someone once said, “Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as gods—and they’ve never forgotten this.” Now this may be a sort of silly way to think about it, but I believe most cat owners will agree with the notion that cats are highly independent and like to live by their own rules.

So what does that mean for cat lovers? Training them can be quite a challenge.

The Nature of Cats

The trope that cats are “stand-offish” or “independent” is something that has persisted for centuries. Cats, unlike dogs, are solitary predators and have a tendency to act within that natural boundary. In the wild, this independence is an incredible asset. Just think how difficult it would be to perform a hiding and pouncing tactic in a pack!

With this in mind, it’s easy to empathize with a cat’s natural desire to make independent decisions and behave as they please. However, when this behavior turns naughty or destructive, it’s a different story.

In order to be successful handling bad behavior in cats, we need to unlearn some bad habits when it comes to discipline and learn some new ones:

1. Cats don’t understand English; they learn by experience.

Training your cat by speaking harshly, yelling or explaining your frustration just isn’t going to work. Cats don’t tend to associate angry words with bad behavior; it won’t cause them to stop what they’re doing. Rather, cats will do what they can to avoid unpleasant experiences. Getting your whiskers caught in a candle flame isn’t something to be repeated, right?

2. Cats don’t learn from isolated instances; reprimand isn’t the answer.

Many people tend to get frustrated when they can’t “catch a cat in the act of crime.” Waking up the next morning to a broken vase or shredded drapery and attempting to discipline hours after the incident just won’t work. He won’t be able to associate the reprimand with the crime.

3. Cats aren’t mind-readers; they require consistency.

If one moment you’re reprimanding your cat and the next you’re ignoring him, this sends mixed messages. Too much problem correction can severely damage the bond you share with your pet. He may decrease his trust in you, fear your approach or avoid you because he doesn’t know what to expect. Don’t let your cat become unsure!

4. Positive reinforcement is the name of the game.

The key to nurturing good behavior in your cat is to give them consistent, loving attention and care. Stay calm when you’re in a frustrating situation, praise him when he does something right and reward good behavior, even if it’s just a step in the right direction. Treats are a great place to start!

5. Cats become overly active and destructive when they’re bored. Keep them engaged! 

If you have a cat who has a seemingly unending source of energy and has a tendency to behave destructively while you’re away, you may need to find new ways to give him attention. For tried-and-true tips to keep your cat happy, active and mentally stimulated throughout the day, check out this post on entertaining your cat! 

6. Set up your environment to do the talking.

Rather than spending all your effort punishing your cat for what not to do, create a living space that clearly defines what he should be doing instead. A great example? Retraining a cat who loves your sofa can be a challenge. Rather than spraying him every time he starts using his claws, set out a scratching post in an ideal location that’s perfect for his needs. Make sure it’s tall, exciting, covered in an appealing material and fun to use!

Have you had any particular successes training your cat? Leave your suggestions in the comments!


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hillabout a year ago

I do have to disagree with some in this article. We had an infestation of fleas one time. I needed to give the cat a bath with flea soap. That night, we were sitting in front of the tv talking. I said "Tomorrow I will give Butter her bath" She looked at me like "I don't think I want a bath". She knew what I had said!

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

heather g.
heather g1 years ago

I've never had to train a cat but know that they persist in waking earlier than what you plan for your normal wake-up time.

Diane Wayne
Diane Wayne1 years ago

I am always very loving and playful with my cats. However on the rare occasions when they are naughty I have found a squirt gun with water is most effective.

Magdalen B.
Magdalen B1 years ago

Carol, your cat is sure you'll give in and serve food at five o'clock eventually. Could you get one of those bowls with a timer?

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Thank you

sandra vito
Sandra V1 years ago


Ann H.
Ann Hoff1 years ago

As an animal communicator, I disagree with almost EVERYTHING in this article. I do agree that cats used to be seen as Gods by the Egyptians. They KNOW english, they will compromise, and they are intelligent. Use a communicator instead of following this GARBAGE!

Cat L.
Cat H1 years ago

Thanks for sharing!