Why Punishing Your Cat Doesn’t Work
Lately, CG’s been a bit of a stinker.
He’s picked up an annoying habit of pawing at our closet’s sliding mirror doors, which results in an irritating clatter noise. He’ll usually do this while we’re in bed before we go to sleep, or if he thinks we’re sleeping in a little too late on a Saturday.
The other day it was so annoying that my husband and I were both extremely frustrated with him – until a thought popped into my mind: How would we respond if we knew this was our last day with CG?
It instantly softened my heart and reminded me a few things. Namely, it’s important to understand a cat’s actions from his perspective, rather than judging his actions from my perspective.
It also reminded me that there’s no point in punishing a cat. Training, yes. Punishing, no.
What do I mean by all of this?
Cats don’t see their behaviors as “good” or “bad.” We see them that way, but they don’t. There aren’t “bad” cats, and when they do “bad” things it doesn’t mean that they’re mad at us. That interpretation of their motives is from our perspective and isn’t correct.
In fact, living with a cat will result in a number of various behaviors. Some you may enjoy, like snuggling. Others you may abhor, like your cat scratching at your favorite chair. But the truth is there are reasons for everything your cat does, and it’s up to us to find out what those reasons are, and help our cats learn more appropriate behaviors.
Consequently, when we punish our cats, they won’t understand it. They won’t connect the punishment to the “bad” behavior. As a result, all they see and feel is their human being randomly cruel to them. They connect the punishment to the one who’s doing the punishment, rather than to the behavior.
This can obviously result in a number of negative issues. Plus, punishments don’t help because they don’t teach a cat what he should do instead. The main takeaway? When it comes to cats, punishments do more harm than good.
For example, punishments can:
Hurt your relationship.
Imagine you’re your cat. You love your human. You lay on her lap. Your human is good to you. But then suddenly your human is always shouting at you, spraying you with water, maybe even hitting you. How would you respond? You’d distance yourself. You’d stop going to that person for love – maybe even avoid them during mealtime. You may even act out in other ways (on purpose or by accident), leading to more anger. You don’t know when your human will be happy, or when he’ll be mad. Your trust in this person deteriorates.
Punishments – or rather being cruel to your cat – can really stress her out. It can make her feel vulnerable, anxious, and insecure. Like with people, a sense of safety is essential if you want to feel loved and valued, not to mention flourish and grow.
Lead to more issues.
Punishing certainly won’t resolve the original issue – and in fact, it may make it worse. Plus, it can lead to your cat developing other unwanted behaviors, too. Some may be intentional, like pooping on your bed, others may be unintentional, like having accidents around your home. Rest assured that your cat doesn’t want to do any of these negative behaviors, she’s simply reacting to the stress in her life.
On a related note, this may also mean that your cat will avoid the areas where she has been punished. If you swatted at your cat in the kitchen, she may avoid going to her food and water dishes.
At this point, you may be thinking “I know, I know, I shouldn’t punish my cat. But he’s doing ___, and it’s really annoying!” Don’t worry, I totally get that. Keep your eyes open for a post on how to reinforce good behaviors – and discourage unwanted ones.