How to keep your cat from destroying your home – Part 5

I have a cat, Figaro, who does something that gets the attention of every friend and relative who visits my home: he actually uses his scratching post!

Occasionally, like any cat would, he’ll scratch at something else (mainly the carpet, but never the furniture), but he quickly returns to his now well-worn scratching post to carry out this necessary act of feline destruction. Why does he go back to his trusty scratching post again and again?

It’s simple: he has come to associate the post with pleasure.

It’s not that Figaro feels good when he scratches the post (at least not that I’m aware of, and I won’t write an article on teaching your cat to talk until I’ve got Figaro reciting Shakespeare). Rather, it’s the association he has built up over time between scratching the post and getting good things. In this case, the good things are cat treats.

Let’s go back to the almost-very beginning, to when Figaro was about 4 months old. When he realized that his claws were made for scratchin’, he went after a recliner. I bought his first scratching post right about that time and set it up for him. Like any cat presented with a boring wooden peg wrapped in carpeting, he ignored it (wouldn’t you?). The recliner was so much more interesting; after all, his humans sat in it. In his wee little cat brain, it was something associated with activity and attention. That’s where I needed his head to be when it came to his scratching post.

When I bought the post, I also bought a bag of cat treats. Getting Figaro to appreciate the cat treats was no problem. From the very first taste, he was hooked. Now I had everything necessary for getting Figaro interested in his scratching post.

Many advice articles on this subject endorse the use of negative reinforcement to some extent, such as the old “squirt the cat with water when it does something bad” routine. The most this is going to get you is a wet cat that will do what you don’t want it to do while you’re not home, plain and simple.

With Figaro, I didn’t punish bad behavior, I only rewarded good behavior. Let me rephrase that: I didn’t punish Figaro when he did things I didn’t want him to do, I just made his good behaviors more worthwhile to him. Cats, like most mammals, are utilitarians – they want to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. If you use “pain” to try and train your cat, the cat will recognize that YOU are something to be avoided, not that some behavior is bad. On the other hand, if you

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