By Fran Buell, APDT
Bare Paw Dog Obedience
I am, on occasion, asked questions about cats and cat behaviors. One question usually asked is how to stop the cat from using the furniture as a scratch post.
Many people choose a cat for a pet because they think cats are easy to live with and do not need obedience training. This is not a complete truth. While a cat may not need to be trained to heel or come to you, an untrained cat can cause a lot of destruction, especially "by nail" - the classic use of furniture as a scratching post and curtains as a jungle gym.
To deal with this complaint, making the furniture and draperies unattractive to cats is in order. Most smooth cotton fabrics such as chintz or silky fabrics hold little interest to a cat. A cat prefers rough, bumpy, textured surfaces and leather. The use of a heavy canvas slipcover or comforter should be considered if your furniture is of this type.
Providing a suitable scratch post is an important aspect of saving your furniture. This should be a sturdy, wide-based, rough-textured post at least 3 feet tall and at least 4 inches in diameter. The post is covered with sisal, burlap or rough carpeting. If there is not a scratching problem yet, place the post near the cat's favorite napping place or a window, as a cat's urge to scratch is strongest upon awakening.
Scratching is also a territorial marking behavior. A cat will choose a prominent item in the house, such as a wall or sofa corner. This serves as a visual scent post as cats have scent glands in their feet. To break the habit of scratching on the wall corner or sofa, it is important to place the cat's scratch post in front of that area so he can use it instead of the unwanted item. After he has used the post in this area several times, gradually move it to the preferred place.
You can also train him not to use the furniture or wall by making these places undesirable to the cat. This can be accomplished by covering it with double-stick tape, aluminum foil or contact paper (sticky side out).
Continue to make the scratch post attractive by occasionally scratching the post with your nails, which will entice your cat to the post to see who is using it as a territorial marker. Dragging a ribbon or toy over and around the post and sprinkling catnip on the post several times a month will also entice the cat to the post.
By providing for a cat's physical and mental needs and keeping its environment stimulating through the use of appropriate scratching posts and challenging interactive toys, much of the destruction caused "by nail" can be avoided
The next column will address cat development from newborn to adult. Information for this column was obtained from the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals through its free literature packet about companion animals.
Questions? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy training.