1. Kittens are generally playful
We recently got three cats. When they joined our family, they were 8 months, 8 months and 5 months old. All of them were still childishly playful, and have been for months after.
For a 16wk old kitten, I'm expecting it to remain this playful for at least a couple of months.
Since you've already bought toys and such for him, I assume you're aware of his playful nature and accept it. I'm going to address how to respond to the specific misbehavior, but I want to mention here that you should never make the kitten feel like it's being punished for being playful, but rather for having done something he's not allowed to.
In other words, don't pre-emptively reprimand the kitten when he's exhibiting playful behavior, even if that generally leads to misbehavior. Your feedback should occur after the misbehavior (and preferably immediately after).
If you're trying to teach your cat, it needs to understand that your feedback is a direct response to his actions.
He is a beautiful kitten, when sleeping by my arm.
The fact that he cuddles up to you is good. It shows that he trusts you and considers you a friend/family.
Are you actively playing with him? Kittens need more than just love, they also need recreation. Even though they can't play with humans the same way as they play with other cats; they still prefer it over playing by themselves.
This also allows you to tire him out. When our youngest cat was new to the house, he was prone to misbehaving when we weren't around (e.g. asleep). So what we did was play with him just before we went to bed. He loves chasing the laser, so I let him run around until he was physically exhausted.
This ensures that he won't be overly energetic for a while, which makes him less likely to misbehave while you're sleeping.
He won't let me pick him up, squirms to get down.
Every creature has its own comfort zone. Some cats simply do not like to get picked up (our two older ones don't allow it; they will sometimes jump on our laps, only if it's their choice to do so).
It's possible that your kitten simply doesn't like being picked up. He's allowed to not like it. I would suggest that you listen to your cat in this regard. Don't do things he doesn't like unless there's a good reason for it (medical intervention, life or death situations, he's misbehaving, ...)
2. Animals are slaves to their instincts
This may sound obvious, but it's important to realize that anything you teach your cat is a cognitive process. Instincts always override cognitive processes.
Especially when they are young, a kitten's playfulness is instinctive. Their body gives them a burst of energy and that energy needs to manifest itself in some way. (Children experience the same thing, it's very natural)
When this happens, the kitten is liable to forget everything you taught it. It's not a matter of willful disobedience, it's a matter of forgetting what they know because they're busy dealing with their instincts.
Instead of expecting your cat to know better, try to see its burst of energy as something that needs to be dealt with. The idea is that you can't stop the burst of energy, but you can steer it. If the kitten sinks its claws/teeth into you, try to divert its attention to a toy.
Our youngest is incessantly playful. He even plays with the dry food if I throw him a piece. So instead of reprimanding him for misbehaving, I simply threw a piece of dry food near him. That caught his attention, and it diverted his playful behavior away from the bad thing (e.g. scratching the wallpaper).
I took this dry food straight from his bowl, by the way, so he wasn't even being fed any more food. Grab 10-20 pieces and keep them closeby; you should be able to divert his playing for a while without having to get up or even yell at him.
3. Kittens need guidance
When he's good by me, I stroke him and tell him what a good boy he is.
This is good. Although I would mention that cats are less responsive to verbal compliments ("good boy"). Instead, try to figure out what type of stroking he loves most (e.g. scratching under his chin, behind his ears, near the lower back, ...) and use that as a reward.
I've bought him lots of toys, scratching pole, which he doesn't use.
This may be a wrong inference on my part, but are you expecting the kitten to use these toys himself; or have you introduced him to them and maybe played together?
Since you're trying to get your cat to selectively behave in certain ways (don't scratch my legs; do scratch the pole), you should teach him both ways. Don't just tell him off for scratching your legs, also try to get him to use the scratching pole. It's possible that he's currently unable to tell the difference between the human furniture (not allowed to scratch) and cat furniture (allowed to scratch). He can only learn from experience.
If he likes playing with a laser pointer, have him chase it and let the red dot "crawl up" the scratching post. He'll sink his claws into the post, and will realize that you're not telling him off for doing so (plus he gets introduced to the scratchable material itself).
4. Teaching cats to not misbehave
We've dealt with instinctive misbehavior, but you should also address cognitive misbehavior. This needs to be actively taught, the cat needs to learn the "rules of the house".
Instinctive behavior cannot be stopped, it can only be steered (cfr the diversion tactics described above). Cognitive behavior can be stopped, but it requires your cat to understand the situation. As cats don't speak English, the communication will be slow and repetitive. They won't understand it on the first try.
I say No very firmly at the scratching etc. I have sprayed his nose.
You're already approaching it the right way, although I'm not sure how you are spraying his nose. Depending on how you do it, this may not work because it's too aggressive (from his perspective as a tiny cat).
My approach is an expansion of this, it focuses on repetition so that the cat understands the pattern (misbehave => punishment) and starts to avoid the behavior that leads to punishment. This is not a quick fix, but it puts him in a position where registering your initial verbal warnings is beneficial to him (thus incentivizing him to listen to you).
To drive this point home, I use an escalation pattern. You can change the steps of the pattern based on what resources you have available, but this my preferred pattern:
- Firmly state the cat's name. Get its attention, but don't (yet) suggest that it shouldn't be doing what it's doing. See if you can get him to remember how to behave without you explicitly telling him.
- Firmly say "No". This is the first explicit indication that the cat should stop what it's doing. Try to be consistent in your pronunciation of "No", so that it starts to recognize the sound faster (compared to when you use a different tone of voice each time)
- Approach him. Don't be threatening. Just come closer in a calm manner, and see if the proximity to you changes his behavior.
- Display the spray bottle. If he's been sprayed before, this may be enough of a reminder.
- Spray him. It doesn't need to be a direct hit. You mentioned spraying his nose, but that seems a bit too much. Just a squirt in his general direction suffices. If he doesn't stop, squirt him on the back.
- If he is still misbehaving, he is intentionally misbehaving. Physically pick up the cat and remove him from the room. Put him down somewhere else. Don't be angry, do it in a calm but strict manner.
The idea is simple. Whenever the cat does something it's not supposed to, you start at step 1. If the cat backs off, job well done. If he does not back off, you escalate to the next step. Give the cat another chance to back off. If he does not, escalate again.
Essentially, once you've taken step 1, the cat is locked in a situation with only two outcomes: it stops with the current behavior and walks away, or you will repeatedly inconvenience the cat in an escalating pattern.
The first few times, you'll have to do all the steps. That's okay. Your cat needs repetition to learn that the consequences are inevitable. Once he realizes that his behavior leads to an inevitable consequence, he will try to avoid that consequence.
That behavior of avoidance is what you're trying to foster. If he wants to not be taken to another room, he should respond to the spraying. If he wants to avoid being sprayed, he should listen to your verbal cues. Etc...
Some tips for this escalation approach:
- Be consistent. You're trying to make your cat realize that the consequences of his misbehavior are unavoidable.
- You can draft your own escalation steps. However, keep in mind that the end goal of every step is to inconvenience the cat. Do not starve, hurt, force or terrify your cat. If you do any of those, you're provoking him to respond instinctively. Instead, you should try to avoid instinctive behavior, and subtly urge your cat to make the right decision (cognitively).
- Always start from step 1. If you immediately spray the cat, then there was no verbal warning. If there was no verbal warning, he'll never learn to listen for verbal warnings.
- If the cat stops its behavior but does not walk away, and starts the misbehavior again after a slight pause, then repeat the current step. This means he somewhat got the hint, but it didn't quite stick when he got distracted again.
- If your cat walks away and stops the behavior, that is the end of it. He did what you wanted him to do. Do not chase your cat, do not continue to treat him as if he's misbehaving. Just like how you're teaching him that his misbehavior leads to unavoidable consequences, you should also be teaching him that a correct response (backing off) leads to no further negative feedback.
- The cat should make the decision to back off. You're simply trying to inconvenience the cat to help it make the decision you want it to make. But you do not make the decision for him. He needs to learn to behave himself. With the exception of the final step, which you should only ever resort to if he is consciously and willfully disobeying you.
- Remain calm. When you're angry or loud, the cat will see you as the aggressor, and that's not what you want. Look at how a mother cat reprimands her babies: she picks them up or pushes them away. She does not retaliate against her children nor hiss at them, because she doesn't think that her babies are intentionally antagonizing her. To the babies, their mother is an unavoidable but fair force of nature. As a pet owner, your cat should see you as a similarly unavoidable but fair force of nature.
- Reward him for not misbehaving for a while. You can also occasionally reward him for backing off (e.g. when you needed to escalate less than you usually do; which means he's making progress), but don't make it a habit because then you're teaching him to misbehave so that he can get an extra treat. Reward him for making progress (less escalation), don't reward him for doing something he was already capable of.
- If there are many things that he shouldn't be doing (e.g. 10 different things), don't use this pattern for everything all at once. Pick a top three, and apply the escalation pattern to the three most important things. When he becomes more comfortable with your escalation pattern, you can start using it for a larger variety of situations. If you provide negative feedback for every little thing he does wrong, that may be too much for him to understand (he may end up feeling like he's not allowed to do anything, which will not make him a happy cat). You need to take it step by step. You can only teach the cat as fast as he is able to learn.
If your interactions with him are predominantly you telling him off, he will see you as a negative element. However, if telling him off is padded between nice memories of you (giving him treats, playing with him, ...), your negative feedback will not reflect on his opinion of you. Try to teach him that when he is nice, so are you. Don't become the boogeyman.
5. Retaliation in equal measure is allowed
Then he attacks me. My legs are scratched all over, along with my hands.
If he is roughhousing you, you're allowed to roughhouse him. Don't hurt him, put e.g. pushing him away is fair game. You're not a monster for responding to him in equal measure.
Note that he may be using his claws unintentionally. I tend to allow my cats to use their claws so long as they do not pierce my skin or leave scratch marks. Young kittens may be less able to regulate their claw usage. Simply cry out in pain once he crosses a certain threshold, and be consistent about that threshold. He'll get the message after a while.
Push him away, softly smack his paws (one or two-finger tap), ... For young cats I find that "the Claw" works well too. Essentialy, playfully attacking him with "the Claw" reflects his behavior. It's not a matter of hurting him, it's a matter of making him realize that when he pounces on you, then you can pounce on him. If you match or surpass him in playful ferocity, he'll understand that you can outclass him and that he maybe shouldn't be poking the bear.
6. Smaller comments
I've bought a calming plug in
I'm apprehensive of this, I don't like chemical manipulation (I'm close to calling it a chemical lobotimization).
I hadn't even heard about them, but I googled it. I don't like the idea, because it masks the problem instead of fixing it. Furthermore, the calming fluid isn't selective. It will dull your cat in everything it does, not just the misbehavior.
Imagine if your son kept you artificially drunk because you're easier to deal with when you're not able to argue with him. I know this is an extreme example, but this is essentially what you're doing to the cat.
Also, you'll be forced to buy refills constantly.
This may come across as offensive. I assure you it's not intended as such. But it seems counterintuitive that you'd avoid interacting with and training your pet. That's the responsibility you took on when you became a pet owner. Why else are you keeping him in your home?
I'm at the end of my thether. So upset. I feel a failure. I need help.
Don't be upset. Your heart is in the right place. You've looked at options to deal with the cat's behavior rather than blaming him for being who he is. You're invested in him, and have been doing the right things.
Try to think of your cat as a child. He's not trying to be annoying. He's simply unaware that his actions upset you. He needs to learn. And just like how we initially teach children softly (not strictly right off the bat), your cat should be taught the same way.
Only get upset with him when you know that he knows better. Just like how you would for a child.
Your cat's success at become mature (which includes not doing things that it wants to do but is not allowed) is a combination of you and him.
If you're currently unable to teach your cat something; then you haven't failed, your current method has. Improvise, adapt, overcome. Investigate why he's not getting it. Try to reinforce the point that he's not understanding. Tailor your method to the cat.
I've tweaked my escalation pattern for every cat I've raised. Not every cat is equal. Observe their behavior, find the flaw (= what you want him to change), then put the cat in a situation where that flaw becomes his weakness.
A great example of this is the first cat who I trained via escalation. He had a habit of meowing while sitting by the sliding door. I sprayed him, but he never really made any progress, he needed the spray every single time and I noticed that he was almost learning to never sit by the door. That was not the point of the lesson.
So instead of making eye contact with him, I started spraying him blindly. I reached around the couch and aimed blindly. Essentially, I started using his meows against him. Based on where the meow was coming from, I was able to pinpoint his location and hit him. Since I couldn't see him, I would be unable to hit him if he didn't make a sound. And that's exactly what I wanted. He was allowed to sit by the door, but if he made a sound, I would be able to spray him. It took a week or two for him to realize that not meowing would actually benefit him, and once he realized that, he stopped meowing.