Can cats learn to change their behaviour? It’s a question that humans have been asking ever since we invited the fluffy little felines inside our homes. Surely, it seems possible. After all, maybe you were as inspired as we were by those amazing videos of cats doing tricks. Apparently, with the right training, some cats can outperform any doggo, and even with a bit more style!
But often, the first reaction we have as Cat Owners when we see a talented tabby is to think, “Well, my cat would never do that.”
And hey, maybe your furry friend isn’t interested in performing for a crowd. But if you’re looking for ways to curb those feline habits that are driving you mad, there’s hope. Because just like the cats who can learn flashy tricks, your cat can be trained to change their behaviours, too!
Can cats learn to change their behaviours? The short answer is yes
Contrary to popular belief, cats aren’t the self-centred animals that we’ve long portrayed them to be. In fact, scientific studies have suggested that our cats may even choose chin scratches from their favourite human over food. And while they may not show their affection as obviously as doggos, they do look to us for security and support. To put it simply, they love us!
So, does that mean that they’re willing to compromise with us when we ask them to change their behavior? Yes, but it’s a bit complicated.
Like all animals, a cat’s behaviour is a little bit genetic and a little bit environmental. You may not be able to convince your calico to let go of some of their more entrenched habits, like hunting and scratching. And punishing them for these natural instincts will simply make your cat feel confused and less secure in your relationship.
But, if you can creatively change their environment, and use the positive parts of your relationship as a reward, you may just be able to convince your cat to change their behavior.
Some helpful examples to explore this question
Let’s say that your beloved British Shorthair has been waking you up in the middle of the night with some boisterous play. Even if you shut them out of your room, you can still hear them thundering around the house for what seems like hours.
Now, is it possible to squash the hunting instinct in your playful Persian? No—it’s part of their genetics. But, you can make a few changes that will encourage them to sleep through the night.
You can, for instance, schedule a few high-energy play sessions throughout the evening before you go to bed. Feeding your cat right before lights-out is another good way to encourage them to settle in for a restful night.
How about when it comes to scratching and marking? Can cats learn to change their behavior and spare your furniture? Again, you won’t be able to keep your cat from scratching completely. It’s a necessary habit that helps them mark their territory, stretch their muscles, and sharpen their claws. But, you can make a few changes to your cat’s environment to encourage them to stop tearing up your favourite rugs, curtains, and loveseats.
How? Give them even more enticing alternatives. Set up plenty of scratching posts in the same area where they normally go for a scratching session.
At the same time, you can use treats, play, and verbal encouragement to get your cat excited about the new scratching posts. Try dangling their favourite toy on the scratching post so that they get a chance to sink their claws in. And always give them a treat or enthusiastic cheer when they opt for the scratching post instead of the sofa. You can find even more solutions in our article, How to Stop Your Cat Scratching the Furniture.
As you can see, there are creative ways to encourage your cat to change their behavior. By focusing on their environment, your cat will be able to phase out the behaviors that drive you nuts without giving up the traits that make them cats!
How quickly can cats learn to change their behaviour?
Unfortunately, there is no set schedule to the cat learning curve. Some smart Siamese may pick up the behavior changes in a matter of days. Others will take longer. But, if you want to streamline the process, take some tips from the scientists who have been researching cat training methods:
- Rely on primary reinforcement training. You might have seen our article on Positive Reinforcement Dog Training, but according to the research, it’s great for cats too! Primary reinforcement simply means that you give your cat a treat every time they do something you want them to do. Through the promise of food, they’ll change their behavior amazingly fast.
- Invest in a clicker. Clicker training is considered to be a secondary reinforcement method. It works by setting up an association between a simple sound and a treat. Once that association has been established, your cat will respond to the clicker sound alone, and you can start the training process. It’s not quite as quick as primary reinforcement, but it has been shown to make cats more engaged and active in the training process.
- Stay consistent. This is one of the most important factors in speeding up the learning process for your cat. Remember that cats will change their behaviour depending on their environment. If the environment is unstable or unpredictable, they’ll revert back to the behaviours that they know.
- Don’t blame your furry friend! You might find yourself asking, “Can cats learn to change their behaviour?” many times during the training process. But stick with it! Think back to all that lovely research suggesting that cats care about and seek out human approval. They may take some time adapting their inherent behaviors, but they do want to make you happy.
By staying calm and consistent, and relying on the best training methods, you can change just about any cat behaviour you can think of.
If your cat’s behavior isn’t changing, it might be a sign
Despite your best efforts, your stubborn Sphynx will not change their behaviour. This could be a sign that something in the environment or your cat’s health isn’t right. A few factors that are easy to miss include medical issues, the scent of a neighbourhood or outdoor cat, or anxiety because of changes in the household. Any of these stressors could make it difficult for your cat to change, since they are focused maintaining the status quo for their own comfort.
If you feel that your cat isn’t changing their behaviour as a result of this kind of distraction, take some time to see things from their perspective. You might need to focus on making them more comfortable in their environment before trying to tackle the behaviours you want them to change.
Are you ready to answer the question, “Can cats learn to change their behaviour” for yourself?
With these tips and tricks for changing cat behaviour, you have all the tools you need to start the process right at home! We’d love to hear about your challenges and successes as you ask your beloved feline, “Can cats learn to change their behaviour?”