You will never get your cat to stop scratching. They scratch to slough off dead nail material, stretch, sharpen claws and mark territory. But before you put your cat through declaw surgery to save your furniture, you owe it to the cat to try training it to scratch appropriately. It’s really not difficult, but it takes patience and supplies.
In training a cat, it is important never to punish for incorrect behavior. Yelling, swatting, or other types of punishment will only scare your cat. The cat will not associate its instinctive scratching on your sofa with the punishment. It needs to scratch. It found a perfectly good place to do it. Then, for some unknown reason, you screamed at it. It will see only frightening and unpredictable behavior and become afraid of you.
Okay, you’re ready to try this. Here are the supplies you will need:
1. Four or five scratching posts in different textures (one is never enough and the vertical posts should be tall enough that your adult cat will get a good stretch).
2. Claw clippers.
3. Catnip and favorite cat toys.
4. Double-sided tape.
5. Sheets to cover the upholstery (for older cats).
First and foremost, clip the cat’s claws. If you don’t know how, or your cat is reluctant, have your vet show you how it is done. This takes some practice, but most cats get used to it and allow it to happen, as long as you’re not nervous about it. Keeping your cat’s claws clipped is healthier for them, as well as making it more difficult for them to scratch on tightly woven fabric.
If you’re working with an adult cat who already uses the furniture as a scratching post, you will need to cover the furniture with sheets (cats don’t like to scratch smooth surfaces). For kittens, try training without the sheets. Make sure the cat can’t get under the sheets!
Place a scratching post in the way of the forbidden places your cat likes to scratch the most – the arm of the sofa, a certain spot on the floor, the leg of the piano, the stereo speakers. Whenever the cat scratches on one of these posts, praise it and pet it. Give it a treat if you have one handy. It will associate the good stuff with the scratching post. For the rest of your cat’s life, praise it when you see it using a scratching post. Reinforcement is necessary.
Play with your cat at the post. Make it a happy place. Rub catnip on it if your cat reacts to catnip. Run a toy up and down the post so the cat gets the feel of its paws on it. Encourage your cat to climb up the post by putting a favorite toy at the top. Scratch on it yourself – cats like the sound and it’s what their mom would have done to train them.
As the cat uses the scratching posts more, you may slowly move the posts and cardboard horizontal scratchers to more out-of-the-way places a few inches a day. But please, give the cat time to establish this behavior. Be sure it’s using the posts exclusively before you start moving things. When the posts are in position and the cat is using them regularly, slowly remove the sheets and/or double-sided tape.
If the cat scratches on the chair arm, pick it up gently and move it to the closest scratching post. I hold the cat upright close to the post and let go. The cat’s instinct will be to grab on to the post, rather than fall on its you-know-what. Praise it when it’s at the post. Praise it when it grabs on. EVERY time the cat scratches inappropriately, pick it up and put it near a scratching post.
Change won’t happen overnight, especially with a cat that is used to using the furniture. You will need to be patient and most of all, consistent. Always praise the cat when it uses the post. After a few weeks, you will probably have a cat that doesn’t think of the furniture as a good place to scratch. Then, all you have to do is keep its claws clipped and the problem is solved!