How to Train a Kitten

Kitten playing with a toy

Training your kitten is an important part of making sure that they grow up to be a healthy, happy, well-behaved cat. But cats also have distinct personality traits that mean they need to be handled and trained in a certain way to be cooperative. The earlier you start training the better, so we've compiled a list of tips and tricks for how to train your kitten right from the start.

Why It's Important to Train Your Kitten

When you bring home your kitten, training might not be the first thing on your mind. However, training your cat to use a litter box, not to scratch or bite when handled, how to interact with other pets, and not to scratch up the furniture ensures your cat can live happily with the rest of the family. Properly training your kitten can also ensure that other people can take care of her if you need to go on vacation and can make vet checkups easier.

How to Train a Kitten

How to train your kitten depends a lot on what you're trying to train her to do. For example, training your cat not to bite will take a different set of tools than training them to sit or stand on two legs. Here are some basic tips that can help you learn how to train your kitten:

  • Take advantage of food. Using high-value cat treats or a little wet food is a great way to reward your kitten and make training sessions more positive for her. Make sure to time training sessions before meals so that your cat isn't already full and not interested in working for her food.
  • Think about what cues you want to use. If you want to teach your cat to respond to voice commands, decide what word you want to use and stick with it. Say the word at the beginning of the training when you are asking your cat to do something and at the end when she's been successful. For example, if you are teaching your cat to sit, say, "sit" and then after she sits say, "Sit, good, sit" — even if you had to put her in a sitting position yourself. With repetition, she will learn to associate the behaviour with the word.
  • Keep training sessions short. You always want training sessions with your kitten to be a fun, positive experience for her, so it's a good idea to limit them to 15 minutes or less. Stop if she seems bored or tired and try to end on a fun note.
  • Focus on one thing at a time. Your kitten will pick up new behaviours and tricks more quickly if she's not getting confused by multiple requests. Once your kitten learns one behaviour and can do it reliably on demand, you can move on to the next.

How to Train Your Kitten to Be Social

Training your cat to be social — both with other pets and humans — helps them be better feline citizens, adjust more easily to changes in the household, and stay safe. To help your kitten be social, it's important to start training her as early as possible. Kittens between 3 and 7 weeks old are the least fearful, so this is a great time to start introducing new people, animals and experiences. Taking your kitten with you for short visits to other houses can be one way to expose her to new friends, and the more people and animals she meets during this stage, the better.

If your cat is older, it will be more difficult to teach her to be social, and you'll have to move at a slower pace. Introduce new things in small doses, and pay close attention to your cat's signals to ensure she isn't getting too distressed, which can make things worse.

How to Train a Kitten Not to Scratch

Scratching is a natural behaviour for cats, so it's not likely that you'll be able to train your cat not to scratch completely. But you can teach her to scratch appropriate things, such as a cat tree instead of your new sofa. Consider getting a scratching post for your cat and putting it in an area she already likes to scratch. Encourage her to explore the scratching post by putting a bit of catnip on it or dangling a toy near it. Chances are, she'll take the hint and start naturally scratching at it. 

You can also make things you don't want your cat to scratch less desirable by putting lemon-scented furniture polish or other scented products specially made for this purpose. The strong smell is supposed to make your cat avoid the area.

How to Train a Kitten to Use the Litter box

Cats have a natural instinct to use a litter box, and in many cases, all you'll need to do is just place your kitten in the litter box, and she'll take it from there. If she needs some extra help, try to catch her right before she's about to use the bathroom and put her in the litter box. You can also move her paws around a bit in the litter to encourage her to dig. A cat that refuses to use the litter box likely needs a vet check to rule out anything medical that could be causing issues.

Learning how to train your cat can be a great bonding experience for you both. Get other cat care tips in our archives.

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