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We have 2 kittens that we brought home 5 days ago, they are 12 and 13 weeks old now. They have a very tall cat tree that they use, they use the litterbox and they get along very well.

There are certain things we don't want them to do, such as:

  • Jumping on the dinner table and kitchen counters.
  • Playing with/eating the (fake) plants.
  • Jumping on the towel shelf (it's in the bathroom, next to the litterbox, don't want their dirty paws on my towels).
  • Climbing the curtains.

I am sure they do this because they think it's fun, not because they lack attention; I work from home and I try to pet them every half hour.

I have tried the following:

  • Ignoring them completely when they do the above.
  • Removing them while saying a firm "NO" and then walking away. They keep going right back at it and I come back, rinse and repeat.
  • Sticking double-sided tape on the plant pots, they just ripped it off and started playing with it, then tried to eat it, and then right back to bashing the leaves.

Next thing I want to try is to use a tiny water gun that I can conceal in my hand and squirt them, then act like I didn't even notice they are there so they don't associate the water with me.

I heard that clicker training is the best way to train your cat to do what you want, but how does that work if you just want to train them to NOT do what you DON'T want?

I'm afraid that having picked them up and removed them while saying a firm "NO" might have damaged the bond between us and the kittens. In the first 2 days they would sit with us in the couch, now they don't want to and just sleep in their cat tree.

What's the best way to stop unwanted behavior while building/maintaining a bond with the kittens?

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    One should not laugh at other's peoples problems but imagining this: "..they just ripped it off and started playing with it, then tried to eat it, and then right back to bashing the leaves." made me giggle! Thanks for that giggle :). – Layna Jun 20 '17 at 13:04
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    @Layna I thought it was pretty funny too so don't worry about that ;) – Jeff Jun 20 '17 at 15:54
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Funny kittens. OK now, training with a clicker makes you guys bond better, it wouldn't teach them not to do something. Instead it will teach them to do something else. And of course it needs time. If you want them to listen to the word ''No'', you should also train them to do stuff which gets them rewards. This would teach them that you love them but don't like when they do the bad stuff. Start training them to come by having something delicious each time you call them, also calling them at dinner (cat dinner of course) time makes training easier and they may learn faster to come to you when you call. That also means not to keep their bowls full all the time.The more you call them then give them treats or dinner the faster they will learn. In this case, saying ''No'' when they do the bad behaviour won't make them try to stay away from you. Treats will make them love and probably trust you as their MOM! So to make a long story short, if you want them to listen to the word ''No'' and still not hate you, you should also encourage them to do things that get them treats or a bite of wet food. They love wet food.

Calling them to play is also a big step to bond. You can do that by choosing a certain word such as ''play'' or ''yoohoo'' and throw some toy or ball. They would associate the word with play and so run to you every time you say the word. And if the word ''no'' doesn't ever work, try saying it then put them in their carrier for some time. And about the water spray it doesn't really matter if they know it's you, just don't use it with everything. For example use it to stop them from coming on your dinner table, to stop them from eating fake plants (although I don't recommend it--it's better to just move the plants elsewhere) and to stop curtain climbing. But give them a warning first. Say no a couple of times like 3 or 4 then if they don't listen, shoot, and if they stay, keep shooting until they stop whatever they are doing. If it's a strong sprayer, avoid the face as much as possible. Use it only at the hip or back. If it's really soft and sends sparkles everywhere it's okay to get to the face as it is annoying to them and at the same time won't hurt them. But don't intentionally aim to the face, that just ain't nice.

Do NOT chase them with the water spray it makes them fear you . When they run away and leave the bad behaviour, stop shooting. it should take 3 sprays at maximum.That makes them understand you are a strict person but they'll still listen to your rules because in other cases you give them treats and attention just for being good at what they like (basically play). That means let them have things to climb instead of a curtain and praise them for it, allow them to take a toy (or possibly some of your stuff as toy) and show them you're proud of them for choosing and skillfully biting, chasing, playing, etc. with whatever they chose.

Cats don't like to break rules even though you see a lot of them break it. They sometimes can't help it especially if it's about food. Of course you don't have to spray them every time. When they're used to it you could say no and IF necessary show them the water bottle, they should immediatly get the idea.That would make them remember the word.

BUT before starting the water spray process you should teach the ''No means I don't approve''. For example if you wanted them off counters, (if they are kittens and not overweight, never do so to a cat) hold them from the scruff and say no then put them down. Don't expect them to listen to the word ''No'' when they don't get the word. Doing the scruff thing makes them get the word. And saying ''No'' then spraying when they aren't trained to the word ''no'' will only make them see the word ''No'' as ''I'll attack you for no reason now, but i'm an idiot so I warn you every time''. After they learn''No'' you level up IF NEEDED and start with the water spray thing. Some cats don't even need the spraying thing. They'll just listen to ''No'' from the scruff thing.

You shouldn't ever scruff a CAT because cats don't have a lot of skin on their necks like kittens, and also when you try to scruff your kitten you can realize if it has enough skin to not choke or if it has a little amount of skin and so chokes which of course, you should never do. Holding them from the scruff only and not carrying them from it is enough.

By using the carrier for certain stuff and water for others, scruffing for little stuff (not so important stuff) it should workout for you. BUT still you should start with scruffing and using the carrier before spraying. Use the word ''No''for everything which you don't approve at first, then if the cat doesn't listen use other techniques. That's after they learn to love you. They will then want to do the good things to get the treats and attention (when they start craving it from you) and avoid the bad things. (By the way you could also use a word instead of a clicker but remember to say it every time they do the good behavior and then make sure they get a treat after saying it). The whole process will take some time, so can you be patient enough to handle two cute little kittens?

If you sense your cat getting sensitive about punishment, that means you overdid it. And that can ruin everything. Try to avoid punishing them as much as possible. And praising them more. Some cats may never learn--they might just get displeased with you. In such cases leaving the cat be is your best option.

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They're cats. Some cats have a very strong urge to explore, and see things they haven't seen before, or recently. You aren't going to change that.

If you have places you don't want them to go, you need to do some combination of

  1. Provide them with better places to go
  2. Make it uncomfortable for them to go to the places you don't want them to go
  3. Make it difficult/impossible for them to go to the places you don't want them to go

Things like a squirt bottle, or saying no, and the like will work really well at training them not to go places you don't want them to go while you're present. They will absolutely associate you squirting them, at least in part, with you. And they'll most likely go to those places when you aren't present. Something that you could trigger remotely, without them knowing you're doing it (a remote air horn or the like) might work, but it would have to happen every time.

So, realistically, you need to block off areas you don't want them to go, or you need to make those places unattractive to them. Things like two-sided tape, aluminum foil, and so on are one possibility; there are also citrus sprays that some cats don't like to smell. But the only fool-proof way is to make it impossible for them to get to wherever you don't want them to go.

Cats are not social animals in the way dogs are, and they look at positive and negative stimulus differently than a social animal would. They like treats, they like being pet and played with, and so on, and they'll get upset if you withhold positive stimulus, but they won't associate withholding positive stimulus with their behavior. And in fact, withholding playtime and the like is will make them more likely to "misbehave," as they look for some way to expend energy. Cats are a different sort of pet, in that they're not really domesticated. They can live with us, but they don't have to.

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  • So no matter how much I reinforce good behavior and make them like me by giving them treats and playing with them, they will always do the bad behavior? Or will they somehow know "if I do this, my human is going to be displeased which means no treats, so I better not"? – Jeff Jun 23 '17 at 14:05
  • Cats have very short memories, and they learn from experience. And the problem is that unless you can consistently, always present a negative stimulus when they do something you don't like, they're not going to learn what you want them to. So, take going on the table. If, every time they go on the table and you see them, you present them with a negative stimulus, they're going to learn to associate you and going on the table with the negative stimulus. But they're going to try going on the table when you aren't around/are sleeping. And if you discover later that they went on ... – Kevin McKenzie Jun 23 '17 at 14:11
  • ... the table, and present them with the negative stimulus then, they're just going to associate you with the negative stimulus, because they're not going to be able to connect the earlier behavior of going on the table. So the only way to have them associate the table with the negative stimulus is to have something that always happens, whether or not you or someone else is around, when they do the thing you don't want them to do. Depending on the cat, a month or two of a negative stimulus might be enough, but other cats are more persistent. Older cats are also often less adventurous. – Kevin McKenzie Jun 23 '17 at 14:15
  • I have a very tall cat tree that they love to use, and it's right next to the table, but they still jump on the table a lot, even use the cat tree as a jumping point which means I need to double-side tape a large surface area to prevent them from going there. Also, how about preventing them from jumping on some towels? I can't tape the towels. – Jeff Jun 23 '17 at 14:16
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    I'd put something on top of the towels that I don't mind having the cats on. This might be a thin piece of wood, a towel that I don't use, etc. To paraphrase Otto von Bismarck, living with cats is "the art of the possible". – mhwombat Jun 23 '17 at 20:37

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