How do I train this cat?

quasifishDecember 7, 2009

We got a new kitty, Mort, a few weeks back. I think he is about 15 weeks old right now. He can be a real sweetie, but also a little terror and I'm not sure how to best go about training him.

He has a terrible habit of coming up behind you (quietly of course) and launching himself onto your back- where he sticks by way of his claws. This is very painful, so in the moment I just want to take him off as quickly and painlessly as possible, but I'm not sure what the proper reaction to this behavior should be to change it. Once you take him off your back and set him down, he will often repeat the behavior. He will also come at your face with paws and claws swinging if you lean over- say to tie your shoe. Though he's tiny, he's also threatening, and while I think he means to just play, he's also learning to be dominant- the old cat seems to like him but is proving to be very passive.

With cats we've had in the past, we've used a squirt bottle as a training tool, but that wouldn't be an option in the above scenario where he's on my back, and in other scenarios, it is proving to not be particularly effective either. If you spray him with water when he's doing something wrong, it doesn't seem to phase him. Clearly he realizes he's wet, it just doesn't seem to bother him. He's fallen into the bathtub with me twice and while he's not thrilled about being in there, he's not very distressed either. Water doesn't seem to bother this guy. When he jumps on me, I often yell his name rather loudly (more of an automatic response than a planned one), that doesn't seem to have much effect on him either.

So how do I train this guy to not jump on my back like this? What is the proper response when he does it? I've never had a cat that did anything like this. Help!

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Oh, I forgot to mention that he is not yet neutered. The vet suggested neutering him at 5 months, but said if he was acting inappropriately (sexually, I assumed) that 4 months would be fine too.

Is it possible that neutering him will help quell this behavior, and should I considered having that done sooner than later?

    Bookmark   December 7, 2009 at 1:00PM
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your post reminds a bit of my cat when she was a kitten. We took her in after she'd been abandoned by someone and she was very difficult as a kitten. In her case though I definitely suspected a lot of her aggression was caused by being really mishandled by someone because you couldnt even pat her or pick her up without her freaking out and claws going wild at you.

But she also has a very domineering personality, and always wanted to be in charge and I think that part is just her nature, she's old now but she's always tried to dominate everyone around her and your little guy sounds like he might have that type of personality. Also young animals will often try and push the boundaries to see what they can get away with.

I found the most effective thing when her behaviour was bad was to put her in a room by herself for a few minutes. It really made her stop and settle down and when I would let her out she would be a totally different cat, very calm and collected. They also learn really quickly that if they behave a certain way like jumping on your back, you arent going to put up with it, and it's a time out, no discussion, no yelling, just taking them out of the situation until they calm down.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2009 at 2:11PM
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If there is any scratching or biting, playtime is over.

The time-out Trancegemini describes should help, and you must be consistent.

Can you clip the tips of his claws a bit? I use human nail clippers on my kitties every couple of weeks and just take off the sharpest part, being careful not to cut too much -- that keeps them from snagging. Kitty gets a treat right afterward. Been doing it since mine were kittens and they're pretty used to it.

Neutering is important for health reasons as well as behavior. I would guess that the vet was referring to a male cat's marking things with urine or trying to get out to search for or fight over females as inappropriate behaviors.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2009 at 10:04PM
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Sounds like he is bored to death. Try getting him some toys to play with.
Also you can train him not to launch himself onto ou with a squirt gun or water bottle, have a couple around the house especially where he likes to attack, it should not take too long before he gets the idea. Good luck

    Bookmark   December 8, 2009 at 5:17AM
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Thanks for the feedback. We have used the time-out strategy and that has seemed the most successful to date, but I wasn't sure if that was a commonly used strategy with cats. Seems like a good idea, but I wasn't sure with the cat psychie if he might react negatively to being isolated, even for a short time.

We do clip our cats claws as needed. That has seemed to help a little.

He has a sister who behaves the same way (lives with someone else). So I have some doubts that neutering him is the answer to this particular problem, though DH and I are both eager to get that done and out of the way.

Bored? Gosh, I hope not. We are home all day and our house is very much set up around the kitties, with tons of toys and we even have a floor to ceiling cat tree with a full length sisal pole for climbing. He and DD play together throughout the day until one or the other crashes (usually him). That's one thing with this guy, he's all the way on or all the way off, not much in between. The old cat also interacts with him throughout the day, they are chasing each other around the house playfully as I write. Maybe I'll try to make/buy him some toys that are more mentally stimulating and challenging?

I'm hopeful that this is mostly a matter of waiting for him to grow up a little and mellow out, but I also want to make sure we are reacting properly now so the behavior doesn't become habit.

Thanks for the ideas. I appreciate them.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2009 at 10:47AM
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The time outs wont hurt him and he will be fine. It just helps them settle, where as with a squirt bottle etc that can sometimes just rile them up more and can make the behaviour escalate so they end getting more aggressive or excited especially if he has a dominant personality.

He will settle down as he gets older but in the mean time he does need to learn that it's not ok to do those type of things and if he does he has to be on his own for a few minutes and settle down. I found it helpful to make it a set time, usually something like 3 or 5 minutes is enough, but it needs to be long enough so he has a chance to calm down properly and twiddle his thumbs a bit and he will learn that doing those things isnt paying off for him. :)

    Bookmark   December 8, 2009 at 11:32AM
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oh I also meant add, I dont think it's boredom, it sounds like he has lots of company and plenty to do. I think he's doing it because he can and he hasnt learnt yet that there are boundaries. It's all part of training of him, he's a kitten and he doesn't know what the limits are so he's just going to do whatever he feels like doing until he learns the ropes and that's part of your job to teach him what's ok and what's not.

good luck, he's a little terror but mort will get there :)

    Bookmark   December 8, 2009 at 11:53AM
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That sounds just awful. You could get an infection from those claws. I would yell at the top of my lungs if my cat did that.

I have used a can of coins to shake at the cat when she is naughty, like climbing on the mantel or scratching the sofa. It makes an awful noise. I know you cannot carry a can of coins around with you, but if he does this at a certain time, you could be ready. Maybe use the coins and a timeout.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2009 at 6:48PM
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What kind of a cat is it? I have a Burmese cat and one of the breed traits is climbing up the back or front of you to get to your head or shoulders. Very common, but it can be painful and dangerous. Yelling or rattles will not usually help - they just don't understand what you are upset about. When my darling does it I change my tone of voice to slightly unhappy and walk to a chair or her tree and have her get on it then I walk away. Just like kids, you don't want to reward them with attention for bad behavior. After a year and a half the frequency has diminished but she still does it, especially when I open closet doors. She is a wonderful, loving kitty otherwise with excellent manners.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2009 at 7:08PM
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Trancegemini, thanks for giving me hope that he will mellow out eventually, LOL.

Socks, I have thought about doing the penny-can thing. I'm almost desperate enough to carry something like that around with me. My old cat is deaf, so it wouldn't bother her at all.

Yesterday he was a good boy all day until the evening, and then he caught me off guard while I was standing at a work table. We did time out and he was pretty good afterward.

Today he has been terrible even after time outs. I tried setting the spray bottle on mist to see if that might deter him the way a stream wouldn't. I misted him directly in the face when he was jumping at me. He backed down and then came right back. I think the hissing sound must have put him off a little because after a few times, the water didn't deter him at all. I soaked him pretty well over the course of several attacks, and he didn't seem to care. I am having fears that he will attack me when I am at the stove cooking and only bad things can come from that. He may have to be locked in the bedroom when any cooking is being done.

It's really amazing how intimidating this little 4 pound cat can be when he's in attack mode.

Thanks again for the support.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2009 at 7:17PM
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Try a can of compressed air. We have one that isn't bothered by water. The blast of cold air combined with the hissing sound it makes works on him. If he just sees me reaching for the can he thinks twice about what he is about to do.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2009 at 7:51PM
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It sounds like his time outs might need to be longer. It needs to be a nice quiet room away from any noise. If you think he might pee then use the laundry or bathroom, he can have a little blanket to sit on but no toys or anything that might distract him, and dont let him out until the time is up, even if he meows because he will just learn then that "meow = a get out of jail free card". If you hear him playing around in there, dont let him out, he needs to settle and get bored or he wont get them message.

another thing that's occured to me, do you think he might be doing it because he's hungry? or needs to use the litter tray? see if a little bit of food helps or show him his tray because they can get quite cranky and naughty and sometimes that can be a kittens way of letting you know "Im hungry!, Im busting!" LOL.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2009 at 11:08PM
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I had five cats at once, all co-habitating with us. I also had a back hanger/shoulder jumper. She was half Siamese, and she was the only one who did this routine and she was never really broken of it. She aimed for your shoulders and flew through the air even when she was pushing twenty. She passed away just this summer and I miss her terribly, even though my back is safe now. It's their personality. And, when I'd peel her off like a piece of velcro, she got mad at me and verbally protested and pouted after the fact. Cats, you gotta love them.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2009 at 6:09PM
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Calliope, I'm sorry about your kitty, and you are scaring me :( He is a grey tabby, but has a brother who looks like full-blooded Siamese, and this one carries himself a bit like a Siamese. Oh no.

Glaserberl, that's a good idea. I even have a can on hand and will try it.

Transgemini, I will pay attention and see if food might be part of the issue. So far, he likes canned food, but has been unhappy with most of the dry food we've offered- even what he was eating before he came to live with us. Right now he mostly eats the old cat's expensive food for old cats.

He's been pretty good today. I have made it a point to not let him be behind me at any point. I have also made a point of pushing him away whenever he is getting pushy or obnoxious. I'm hoping just that kind of gentle persistence will come across as alpha enough on my part.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2009 at 6:44PM
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Quasifish............this is Satiko. Yes, she was a grey tabby, too. But her body was typically siamese, wiry, long-legged, tiny feet, and she 'talked'. We called her toilet kitty for a long time, because she'd hide in the overhead cabinets in the loos, and leap down to the shoulders of unsuspecting visitors when they were in their most vulnerable, with their drawers down. We also called her Copycat, as she loved to ride the lid of the xerox machine back and forth, but her head remained stationary. Just her body moved. LOL.

She absolutely adored me, and wanted to be in as close proximity to me as possible as often as possible. Hence, the back jumping and shoulder riding. Sometimes I wore her like a fur boa around my neck for hours. She was never broke of it, but it was a small price to pay for such love. Like I said........I had her for twenty years, so I have no reason to begrudge her going to her next life I guess.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2009 at 6:50PM
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I was reading this laughing and thinking, ' sounds like my Siamese kitty (who's now 15) when he was a kitten!".

Siamese love vertical areas and CLIMBING and perching up high. If you do not provide something for them to climb, they will improvise. They can be very stubborn and prefer to dominate. I love Siamese cats...because I like the challenge.

When he was a kitten, he would actually leap onto the top of the door. Yes - the door. Not a shelf...the top of a door..that 2 inch wide space and balance there, then, leap on me when I walked by.

Also, he fell out of two different second floor windows via the screen. Once was leaping at a bird on the tree through the window, the other time...who knows?

The squirt bottle thing never worked on my Siamese - Saki. It became a game to him where he would be naughty because he knew I would squirt him so he could run through the house playing 'chase me, chase me'.

Obviously, I had to come up with another strategy. This was not working! The time-out thing seemed to work the best. He hated being seperated from me and would howl behind closed doors.

Some of the behavior you describe is just 'Siamese Kitten' and he'll grow out of it. But, you do need to establish that you are the one in charge.

Okay this will sound weird, but, when he uses you as a human scratching post, try grabbing him by the scruff (the mamma-cat way) to immobolize him, look him in the face and make a very loud angry cat sound (RRRREOW!) with hissing. I sounds weird and you don't want to be on YouTube doing this, but sometimes, if you 'speak their language' - they get it.

For whatever it's worth, they do calm down eventually and you'll find you miss the crazy Siamese antics.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2009 at 12:36PM
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Calliope- what a pretty kitty. It sounds like she had a ton of personality. That's way too funny about the copy machine. He doesn't seem interested in riding on my shoulder though, it seems more like attacking me than wanting to get up there. The past 2 days have been pretty good, I'm making a strong point to not let him get behind me at any time- trying to break the behavior by preventing it altogether.

I'm glad you're laughing Saintpfla- at least something positive is coming out of this! We had noted that he and his mama are both incredibly good jumpers, just like you described- high, springy, and accurate. I will try your technique, we used a similar one with our lab when she was a puppy, based on how mama's train their babies by grabbing them by the scruff of the neck and giving them a gentle shake. It worked well with the dog, so I'll try immobilizing and reowing/hissing at him. Anything is an option to try at this point.

We did try the compressed air. That worked twice and then didn't bother him at all. Talk about stubborn! Then he started chewing on the little straw that plugs into the spray nozzle. (shaking my head here)

    Bookmark   December 13, 2009 at 9:04PM
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I'm laughing WITH you - not AT you! ;-)

Yeah, their stubborn nature is part of the 'fun' including a knack for getting into precarious situations. My Siamese actually 'sniffed' a lit candle...I grabbed him just in time so he only burned his little eye brow hairs.

He ate Nair, would nap on the top shelf of the linen closet, destroyed three chairs with his scratching even though he had two scratching posts. I never actually broke him of the scratching habit...he eventually aged out of it.

I think the phrase 'cats have nine lives' was coined for Siamese kittens.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2009 at 9:37PM
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Saintpfla- I have to thank you. We've been using the vocalization method since about the time you've posted it, and it's worked wonders from the start.

I don't have to even touch him, just look down at him and make a reowing sound, and he backs right off from whatever he is doing. He has not attacked my back all week- thank goodness. This morning he was getting a little too rough with old kitty, so I reowed at him and he immediately checked himself and settled down a touch. I sure hope this keeps up! Can't thank you enough for the advice.

I forgot to mention how right on you were when describing the incredible balance these guys have. I had a cupboard open the other day and he was balanced on the top edge of that- probably 1/2 inch wide. We have one of those scissor fold laundry drying racks that's got the dowels for hanging laundry on. When it's set up, he will hop right up those dowels like a bird on perches- it's really amazing to watch him. DH saw him doing it and asked if he had a prehensile tail! It sure seems so at times.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   December 18, 2009 at 2:50PM
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So glad it worked for you! I know it feels foolish as heck to do it, but, it's better than being a human scratching post. You're now well on your way to establishing yourself as the 'Alpha Cat'. You can slowly start adding in verbal reprimands WITH the 'rrreowing' and eventually --- slowly---transition to all verbal correction. The goal being to allow the discontinuence of the 'Cat Speak'.

Another point to consider, Siamese are very stubborn. Even though yours is a mixed-Siamese, it sounds like he got ALL the personality! You may want to begin getting him used to nail clipping, any pilling, etc. while he's young. They can get grumpy when older. You'll be very happy that you began early positive reinforcement with treats, pats, playtime, brushing, etc. while young when it comes time for nail clipping.

Siamese cats are wonderful, energetic, insatiably curious, very loyal cats who many times pick 'favorites' in the family - but very devoted to the family. They bond very deeply with their favorite people.

My kitty, Saki, is so old and sick now. I find I do miss the crazy kittens times even though sometimes the behavior was a bit challenging.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2009 at 8:15PM
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