Tag Archives: training

Creature Thoughts: June 2020 – A Kitty’s Gotta Scratch

A Kitty’s Gotta Scratch

Featuring Tristan and Kieran

“How do I get my cat to stop scratching?” is a question I have heard quite a few times over the years. My answer? “You don’t.”

Tristan and Kieran on their cat tree. Photo © Deridre Price, 2018

That’s not a fatalistic outlook speaking. You don’t get a cat to stop scratching, because scratching is absolutely essential for a cat’s mental and physical health.

Scratching exercises all major muscle groups in the cat’s body, as well as many fine muscles of the paws, legs, shoulders, neck and back. It clears old, dead sheath tissue off of the claws, helping them to remain healthy and clean. It releases energy, diffusing that which might be otherwise channeled to more disruptive activities. It is a great stress reducer, both because of the exercise, and the fact that cats use scratching to claim ownership of their home and belongings. There are scent glands in a cat’s paws which, like the glands in their cheeks and the base of the tail that mark with scent when a cat rubs, place the cat’s own scent on their favorite items. A cat who feels like he owns his space is a content, secure cat.

What a cat-parent must do to save their home and furniture is not prevent the cat from scratching, but help him to know what surfaces are acceptable.

Providing your cats with appropriate items to scratch will go a long way toward preserving your belongings. The wide variety of scratching products on the market today means that every cat’s preference can be satisfied. Some cats like to reach upwards to scratch (couch and wall culprits). Some prefer to stretch out on the floor (carpet diggers). All cats, whether horizontal scratchers or vertical, like to be able to really stretch out.

Part of the same post, some time later. It’s better to replace a post occasionally than to replace your couch!
Photo © Deirdre Price 2020.

Avoid scratching posts and boards that are too short for your cat to reach to their full length. Make sure, whatever type you choose, the post is solid and does not wobble too much. If a cat likes floor scratching, the “wobble factor” isn’t as much of a priority. Of all the scratching options we have provided Missie, the ones she likes best are those cheap cardboard scratching boards that just lie on the floor. Vertical scratchers, however, will often not use a post that wobbles. Some cats like to use broad surfaces, so might prefer a board to a post. There is much to choose from.

Observe your cat’s preferences. He will show you just how he likes to scratch. Shop around a bit, and find just the right type of scratching surface to suit his natural tendencies. Once you have the product in hand, it is not difficult at all to train a cat to use it. Play with his favorite toy near the scratcher. Try rubbing a little catnip into it. Don’t force his paws onto it–that is uncomfortable to a cat, and you don’t want to create a negative association. If it’s a vertical post, try laying it down at first till he has discovered it. Be sure not to hide it in an out of the way spot, but set it up in an area where your kitty already likes to hang out.

If the cat has already started using an inappropriate surface, set the new scratching post up near that area. When you see the cat start to scratch the wall or couch, move him gently to the new scratcher and encourage him: “Scratch! Good boy!” Give lots of praise and maybe even a treat when he complies. Be sure to make that his favorite interactive-play spot for a little while. You can encourage him to stretch out and scratch by drawing his favorite wand or fishing pole toy along the surface. If you enjoy clicker or lure-reward training with your cat, that can be a very quick way to get the “This is where you scratch” message across.

The Felix Cat Tree company makes very sturdy, long-lasting posts. This post gets as much use as the cat tree above, but has really held up well. Photo ©Deirdre Price, 2020.

You may have to, for a short time, cover the old item or spot with something that will deter the cat, if he has already developed a habit. Double-sided tape works, or some cats will be deterred by aluminum foil. A temporary furniture throw can help if it’s a couch or chair arm that is his target. Since you are also actively encouraging and praising the cat for using the correct surface, your funny-looking deterrents won’t be there for long, don’t worry.

Whatever you do, don’t punish the cat or use a squirt bottle to deter him from scratching. All this does is make the cat wary of your presence so he won’t scratch while you’re watching. That will simply make the training process take much longer, and damage your relationship with your cat. Instead, your goal is to make his new scratching board or post the most inviting place to exercise those claws and muscles.

Every cat needs to scratch. By providing a variety of appropriate places for him to do so, you’ve created a happy cat, a happy owner, and a delightfully un-shredded home.

With thanks to my buddies Tristan and Kieran, Manx cats who live in the beautiful state of Kentucky with their mom, Dede.

News and Information

Remember that you can always follow my availability, and any changes to my schedule via the Gazehound.com website, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

If you have young animal lovers in your life (or are a young-at-heart animal lover yourself) who are looking for something to do this (rather odd and limited) summer, take a look at my Junior Handler Mysteries. Perhaps they would enjoy some fun reading.

Creature Thoughts, July 2019: Ditch the Dish

Dr. Dunbar’s Ditch the Dish

I have been a follower of Dr. Ian Dunbar, considered by many to be the top canine behaviorist of our time, since the 1990s. Dr. Dunbar is well known for his Sirius Puppy Training program, is the founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and has written numerous books and created many videos on dog behavior and training. He was one of the initiators of relationship-based positive dog training, and still, today, works tirelessly to help owners improve their relationships with their canine friends.

In addition to having all of his books, and having taken numerous online seminars and workshops with Dunbar, I am also a member of the Dunbar Academy website, which has a vast library of written, audio, and video knowledge. The site is primarily run by Dr. Dunbar and his family.

Many of my doggy clients have heard me speak of “Nothing In Life Is Free (referred to by many trainers as NILIF).” That is the process of teaching a dog to turn over control of his resources (and as a result, his anxieties over territory, food, and a slew of other stresses), by asking the dog to “say please” (by sitting) for everything he wants. Part of this plan is to hand-feed your dog his dinner, which builds a relationship of trust.

Ian Dunbar’s approach (along with a few other trainers who follow a similar philosophy of relationship-building) is to eliminate the food bowl altogether.

If your dog has any behavior issues that need working on, or is simply in need of basic manners training, he recommends that you find a high quality kibble for your dog’s main diet, measure out his ration for the day in the morning, and dip into that all day long as training treats and rewards for good behavior, or, during the hours the dog must be alone or in quiet-time, in stuffed chew toys like Kongs.

This turns your entire relationship with your dog into a day-long training opportunity, and builds a bond with him that is based on trust and leadership.

For more information on how the process works, here is a short video by Jamie Dunbar (Dr. Dunbar’s son), hosted on the Dunbar Academy’s sister site, DogStarDaily:


Quick Tip: Ditch the Dish


More on this, and a treasure trove of other training and behavior information, can be learned through the courses on the Dunbar Academy website. There are various levels of courses, ranging from free resources, to the full Top Dogs Academy subscription. DogStarDaily.com has also been a favorite doggy resource of mine for many years.

I, personally, haven’t had the opportunity yet to use this lifestyle approach with my own dog (Ryder being embarrassingly well-behaved), though I have had great success with the NILIF program with previous canine friends. To me, “ditching the food bowl” makes a great deal of sense as a way to expand on NILIF and make life one big happy training game and relationship-building opportunity.

Have you used this type of full-immersion training with your dogs? If so, feel free to comment and let me know how it worked for you.

Related Links:


In the spirit of transparency: The links to Dunbar Academy will connect you to my affiliate account, should you chose to purchase any of the paid items you find there. If you decide you would like to purchase one of the stand-alone courses on Dunbar Academy, email me first, and I can provide a discount code. However, there is a great deal of free information as well, so enjoy the site, as well as DogStarDaily.com!

Creature Thoughts, March 2017

March, 2017

What Are We Teaching Our Pets?

Our animals are learning from the moment of birth (and it’s very possible that they are learning even in the womb). They are born into a world of education that continues to their very last breath and, some say, beyond.

How aware are we, when we bring our new family members home, that every moment of every day, in everything we do with our pets, we are teaching them? What behaviors are we likely to encourage if we’re not paying attention?

For example, how many of us have trained our dogs to beg at the table? “He’s so rude,” we might say to ourselves, when, in actuality, our little friend probably would not have started begging if we hadn’t given him a taste of our dinner to begin with. (And yes, I speak from experience!)

Like human children, our pets watch everything we do. Dogs usually follow our actions more closely than cats, but don’t let a cat’s casual attitude lull you into thinking she doesn’t notice. When you think about it, that can be a bit intimidating.

On the other hand, this can be used to our advantage. If we are consciously aware of how smart our animal family members are, we can watch for opportunities to mold their behavior.

When you walk through the door and are greeted by the dog who jumps up on you, do you use that moment to teach the proper way to greet? Or do you edge around your leaping and panting friend, get your shoes off, and get dinner started — thus unwittingly encouraging the behavior? Even worse, do you pet him and praise him for being impolite? Try keeping a favorite toy just inside the door, but out of the dog’s reach. It will only take a moment longer to grab that toy, use it to lure your friend into a sit, and then reward him with the toy. Before you know it, you’ll be greeted by a happy dog, who sits politely in anticipation of his new game.

Do you ask your pet to “say please” (by sitting) before you put her supper dish on the floor? Even a cat can learn to sit on request (all of mine have, anyway). It takes only a few extra seconds a day to turn dinner into an opportunity to build a routine of proper mealtime etiquette.

Much negative behavior is reinforced when we’re not paying attention. We often inadvertently reward them (or fail to instruct otherwise) for behavior that, should we actually think about what we’re doing, we might prefer not to encourage.

How often does the cat who howls at night get just what he is seeking (attention) when the owner wakes up and talks to or pets him to calm him down? Some cats even train their owners to get up and give them an extra meal in the middle of the night. We continue to reinforce that behavior, rather than nipping it in the bud right away. We have taught our cat that if he howls after midnight, we’re going to respond with a reward (even negative attention is still attention, after all). If we totally ignore kitty as soon as he starts this behavior, he’ll learn quickly that night time is for sleeping. Once the pattern has become ingrained, it can be much harder to break.

I encourage you to pay close attention for a few days. Count how often simple interactions with your pets might be used to help them behave in a certain way. Are your actions reinforcing bad behavior, or good? What small changes can you make that will turn your daily routine into a series of training opportunities?

After all, our pets teach us so very much. Let’s try to be more conscious of how much we teach them, in return.


News and Updates:

Although the March issue is a bit late, I’m pleased to be able to share it with you. Moving life-in-general from PC to Mac has been fairly seamless, though it has taken some time to get everything up and running. Thank you for your patience as I’ve returned to something resembling a normal routine!

As always, please continue to visit my website for updates, changes of schedule, etc. I will always try to keep the Unavailable Times page current, and you can also follow my Twitter announcements in the sidebar.

Blessings and Light,