An expert explains how clicker training can be the answer.

By Roxanna Coldiron
April 30, 2019
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Cats know how to keep their humans on their toes. When you live with a cat, you learn how to communicate with your feline companions. Our human interests often do not mesh very well with the natural instincts of our cats. Case in point? Our furniture being scratched and torn apart. We asked Marilyn Krieger-a certified cat behavior consultant at The Cat Coach and author of Naughty No More!-for her best advice on how to keep cats from scratching the furniture.

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Why Cats Need to Scratch

It's very possible to train your cat not to scratch, Krieger says, but it's important to recognize that certain behaviors are very normal for our feline friends. "Scratching is natural behavior for cats," Krieger says. "There are a few reasons why cats need to scratch; one is that they are territorial. [Cats] have scent glands on the bottom of their paws, so whenever they scratch they are marking their territory." Cats also need to scratch for nail maintenance, and who doesn't love the scratching motion a cat makes when she stretches after a nap? Cats may also scratch when they are stressed or conflicted about their environment. The important thing is to not get angry at the cat or yell at them. Punishing your cats for engaging in behavior that is natural to them can escalate the behavior, Krieger says. Cats won't understand why you are yelling; instead, they could become more stressed out by your yelling or fearful of you. "Instead of punishing your cat, you can train the cat to not scratch the furniture," Krieger says. "Make it undesirable to scratch the furniture and give them better alternatives to engage in their scratching behaviors."

Cover the Area That They Like to Scratch

Does your cat seem to get a thrill from scratching the edge of a chair or the sofa? "You will want to cover that area. You can use double-sided tape, for instance," says Krieger. "You can also put things on that they don't like to scratch like even a sheet. They don't normally scratch a sheet." Covering the area can make it less desirable for cats to scratch in those spots.

Put a Scratching Post in Front of an Item They Like to Scratch

"You will want both horizontal [floor] and vertical scratchers," Krieger says. "Don't hide the scratchers. Keep them in the areas where your cats like to be; remember that they are territorial." Make sure that the vertical scratching posts are tall enough and strong enough to allow your cat to stretch out and scratch with her claws. Horizontal scratching boards made from cardboard are also a feline favorite, and you will want to keep the cardboard scratchers even when the cat has scratched through them. (Krieger suggests putting the new cardboard scratchers next to the old ones to make them more enticing to the cats.)

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Don't Introduce Used Cat Furniture or Scratchers

Even at the risk of missin out on a good bargain, avoid bringing home used cat furniture such as a scratcher. "Remember that they are marking their territory and scent is extremely important to cats," Krieger says. "In other words, if you bring in a scratching post that another cat has used, it's like bringing in a whole other cat into their territory." Your cat will not approve of the scent of the unseen strange cat and will avoid using the scratcher.

Remember to Positively Reinforce Good Behavior

When your cat is scratching the post instead of your furniture, Krieger suggests reinforcing the behavior in a positive way. "You let the cat know that they are scratching what you want them to scratch," she says. "Give the cat whatever the cat likes like praise, petting, or treats. Clicker training can work well with this." When clicker training, Krieger says to let the cat start scratching the post, click to let her know that you like the behavior, then give a treat. The cat needs to associate the click and treat with the desired behavior (in this case, scratching the post).

Whatever You Do, Don't Declaw Your Cat

One thing that most cat behaviorists want to stress is that you should not declaw your cat. "Declawing removes the joint in their claws," Krieger says. "It is very painful to cats, can cause arthritis, and because of the pain, cats can develop other behavior problems like not using the litter box." Declawing also takes away a cat's natural defense, which can lead to biting. The cat could feel like she has to bite to defend herself against a perceived threat when she doesn't have her claws to protect her. In fact, some states have deemed it illegal.

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