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Teaching your kitten good manners

Contrary to popular opinion, it's possible to train your kitten to pick up some useful skills at an early age. Cats can be trained to recognise their name, as well as to come to you when commanded. And the earlier you start training, the greater the likelihood of success.

Social skills

It's important to introduce kittens to new experiences with people and other cats and dogs while they are still young enough to take everything in their stride. As soon as they are old enough to move around independently, kittens will approach new situations fearlessly. Their first big learning period begins at about three weeks, when the eyes and ears first open and they start to explore the big wide world around them.

At seven weeks, however, kittens start to get more cautious, so it's vital they encounter as many new situations as possible before this age, as well as afterwards. It's unfortunate that you are unlikely to have your new kitten before this age, which is why your choice of breeder or rescue shelter are so important.

Pedigree kittens are likely to be kept with their breeder until they are 12 or 13 weeks old, so they may miss out on many aspects of their emotional development. You will have to pick the process up as soon as your kitten arrives and get them used to lots of goings on as best you can.

But, of course, your kitten's emotional development doesn't just end at 12 weeks. Cats are very adaptable and there is a great deal you can do to ensure that they learn to cope and enjoy life, even if they are a little more wary than they should have been when they arrived.

Social calendar

  • Invite people to your home to help your kitten get used to people of different sexes, ages, heights, builds and races.
  • If you don't have children, invite some along, making sure they are briefed about how to behave around your kitten.
  • Invite friends with known cat-friendly dogs to visit. The dogs must be well trained and able to stay on command - whatever the circumstances.
  • Take your kitten out in the car for short trips to get used to car travel from a young age. Offer a special treat when you return to the house.

Actions and reactions

Whenever kittens encounter something new, act confidently as if there is nothing to worry about. Smothering them, or reassuring them in a neurotic way, will reinforce their fears. They might also learn that by feigning a frightened response, they get lots of attention! A calm, matter-of-fact attitude works best.

First steps in good behaviour

Your kitten has a lot to learn. Be patient, focus on rewarding good behaviour and let less welcome behaviour disappear by itself.

Never hit your kitten. Instead, interrupt annoying behaviour with a firm ‘NO!’ before directing your kitten to a more appropriate activity. For instance, if your kitten is knocking items off a surface, say, ‘NO!’ and toss a ball to chase instead.

Name familiarity

  • Say your kitten's name over and over during enjoyable experiences, such as when they are eating, or when you are petting them.
  • Never shout their name if you are angry - they must associate their name with good things. This is especially important with outdoor cats. When you call their name, you want them to come running.

Scratching post

It's important to teach cats where to scratch, so they don't use the arm of the sofa instead!

  • Show the kitten their post and dangle a toy along it, encouraging them to play. When their claws hit the post, they are likely to start scratching. Bingo!
  • Alternatively, lift your kitten's forepaws gently and make downwards, scratching motions on the post. Your kitten should soon come to do this alone.
  • Putting some catnip on the post may also encourage them to scratch.
  • The more they scratch, the more likely they are to scratch again in the future, as the post will smell of the scent deposited there from your kitten's paws.

Cute and curious

Most kittens are too busy playing or exploring to stay still for long. And because not all cats are lap cats, let your cat come to you to be cuddled or caressed. Give your kitten room to grow and, in time, your pet will spend more time close to you. After all, learning to live with anyone new - especially a kitten - requires patience, understanding, a little compromise - and a big sense of humour!

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