Sometimes, my cat paws me while playing, with his nails out, and it hurts. Sometimes, he's a jerk and doesn't let me brush off litter dust from his paws.

If I say ow, and make a sad face, he probably won't understand much.

What can I do to say "ow, stop" in cat language? What about "I am sad that you did what you just did"? What about "please stop being mean"?


The key to training a cat is that feedback (positive or negative) must be immediate and consistent.

If your cat bites or scratches, then you must make a noise using a hurt or angry tone while they are doing it. If your reaction is delayed, they will have trouble associating it with their actions as the cause and may just think you're randomly being a jerk.

Then, once that link is established, deliver the negative feedback: move them off your lap or even give them a short time out in another room. The key is to deprive them of something they want, which is most likely your attention in the case of playing too rough.

They will be unhappy about this result, of course, but if you (and anyone else in the household) are consistent about it, they will make the connection fairly quickly and try modifying their behavior to see if it stops happening.

Note that this is exactly how kittens learn to play with each other: if they are too rough, the other kittens cry and run away, but if they're not, they get a fun playmate. Human skin is a bit more delicate, so that requires adjustment on their part, but the overall learning process is the same.


If you flinch and say "ow', that's a pretty universal mammalian signal... If it isn't that bad, I've had pretty good success in persuading my cats by reaching around and lifting the tips of their toes whenever they do this. If they persist after that warning the get evicted from the lap. I don't know whether they actually understand, but they find this annoying enough that they eventually associate it with their kneeding and learn to kneed more gently. As with any cat training, it takes a while for them to figure out what you're asking for , and then a bit longer for them to decide to cooperate.

  • 2
    You can make it even easier to understand by "meowing" like another cat would if being hurt. This is especially effective in rough play where another cat would do the same. Kneading claws are harder to combat since they are 'in the zone' and think you have fur. Putting a cloth between is the best for that.
    – Oldcat
    Jan 15 '15 at 22:44
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    I find that my cats do understand protesting noises even if not in their native tongue. Understanding human tone of voice is a survival skill ... they have no idea what "hey get off the rasafrassin table!" means as words but they know it means that they didn't get away with breaking the rule because you're shouting at them. Same with "ow!".
    – keshlam
    Jan 16 '15 at 2:25

Important point: like most animals, cats need immediate feedback to understand what you're responding to. Effectively, they don't remember what they did a few minutes ago, or at least don't consider it important or why you'd be objecting now. So you need to anticipate their actions and look for the "teachable moment", or create those moments.

(This is why the "rub their nose in it" idea is abusive rather than useful. They really don't understand the message. )


Actually, cats are very sensitive to emotions, especially towards the human that the cat had decided to be his/her "leader" of the pack (known as owner, cat do not acknowledge us as their "owner", rather they see us as their "leader"). My cat took me as her "leader of the pack" and will follow me around the house when she's not sleeping. With the normal cats' instinct built-in, she does sometimes do things that "hurt" us, like the example you had mentioned : "nails/claws out while playing with us".

Cats can be trained, and it depends how you're going to "communicate" with your cat. For me, I treat my cat like a kid who needs to be taught on things that are correct or wrong. Which means I teach her like we teach a human baby, For example, when a baby is drinking milk, we repeatedly tell them "milk milk", or while defecating we repeatedly tell them you "poo poo". Babies and cats/dogs can learn simple sound (repeated sound) and are able to associate the sound with the thing they are doing at the moment after several times of repetition.

Examples of what my cat had learnt:

  • When she plays with us and unintentionally pulls out her claws, "Ouch!" does not always helps, as she don't understand. I repeat the word "pain pain", whenever she dug her claws on me, after a while she understood that "pain pain" means she's hurting me; and automatically she'll pull back her claws.
  • When seeing her jumping onto a chair or table, I'll repeat the word "jump jump" The next time I saw her below a chair or table, I say the magic word again, she will understand and followed my "instructions".
  • I made her do some trick to get her favorite treat, I'll say "hand hand"; which means I want her to raise her paws for me to get the treat. It does work! (but only for her FAV treats, Haha).

Different breeds of cats does have different level of intelligence which I watched from "Cats 101" though. You may wish to try it out for a few times, and hope that your cat could finally understand and be able to "communication" with you.

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    "Owner"? "Leader"? I always thought it'd be "servant".
    – Mario
    Jan 15 '15 at 23:33
  • Haha.. true but depend the level of affection your cat have with u. Probably they likes to treat their leader as servants.
    – Win.T
    Jan 15 '15 at 23:37

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