A behaviorist explains why encouraging them leads to harmony instead of a competitive hierarchy.

By Roxanna Coldiron
November 06, 2020
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It's important to you that your pets lead healthier, happier lives. Whether you want veterinary advice, behavioral insight, or the best-in-market pet essentials that make every day more joyful, for both you and your cat or dog, The Well-Balanced Pet offers practical tips you can use.

A multi-cat household has its share of ups and downs. It's fun to watch them play together and groom each other. But what can you do to defuse aggression between cats that may not get along with each other? It's not uncommon for cats to get into fights on occasion, and a new cat is not often welcomed into the home.

two cute cats sleeping on a bed
Credit: Srisakorn / Getty Images

"When introducing unfamiliar cats, most people are familiar with advice like scent-swapping (allowing each cat to learn each other's smell) and feeding meals on opposite sides of a gate to build familiarity," says Julie Posluns, expert cat trainer and owner of Cat School. "Less known is how to use the clicker to improve unfamiliar cats' interactions or deal with cats that don't get along—for example, when one cat bullies another cat."

So, what can you do? We asked Posluns to share her advice on training cats to cohabit peacefully, which encourages harmony in the home.

Sit and Stay

Clicker training is very effective in conditioning cats to exhibit desired behaviors, according to Posluns. And you can use this technique to train multiple cats to get along. "For a cat whose default behavior is to target another cat, our goal might be to teach him to walk past the other cat and go to a 'parking spot' to earn a reward," she explains. "If we repeat this training, we can condition the offending cat when entering the room in the other cat's presence to automatically go to their parking spot." This would prevent any negative interactions between the cats.

To begin, you will want to clicker train each cat to sit and stay in a chair. According to Posluns, this teaches cats to wait their turn and to focus on you, not the other cat. Then, you can move the chairs closer and closer, or set up a gate between them if the cats are a bit feistier with each other.

Reward for Positive Behavior

Once the cats do well with their initial training, you can begin adding more movement. "Ask one cat to walk past the other cat and jump on their chair," Posluns says. "In all training sessions, each cat gets a reward—one cat earns rewards for following your signals and the other cat gets rewarded for staying at their spot." Training the cats together will help to build positive associations with each other, as well as strengthen their bond with you. Your cats will either become friends with each other over time or establish a peaceable truce. It takes time so you will need a lot of patience.

You should, however, keep them separated when you are not there to supervise them. "Never take the approach to let two upset cats work it out on their own," she says. "If cats show aggression such as guarding food, consult with a feline behaviorist for more guidance."

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