The Negatives of Positive Punishment
Recently, I had a consultation with a client whose cat decided to not urinate consistently in her litter box. As soon as the client filled out my history form and after I saw the litter box situation, I knew immediately why her cat wasn’t using the box. An easy fix… But this blog entry isn’t about the triggers and the solutions, this is about punishment and why cats should not be punished…
Unfortunately my client, in her frustration, was punishing the cat for not using the box. She both rubbed the cat’s nose in the urine and swatted her on the rear for her accidents. After awhile, the client noticed that the cat’s behavior escalated and the cat no longer enjoyed sitting on her lap. She finally was alarmed when her kitty started avoiding her most of the time, with the exception of meal times. (This case has a happy ending, client is no longer punishing her cat and the cat is now consistently using the box)
Besides being inhumane and cruel, punishing a cat will not stop a cat from doing an unwanted behavior. Cats do not associate the punishment with the unappreciated activity. Instead, cats will commonly associate the punishment with the punisher. I find this sad and tragic. The person that the cat has loved and trusted is now perceived by the cat as scary and hurtful. Understandably, this usually results in the cat becoming fearful of her person. Essentially, the cat/human bond is broken. Other common responses are; the behavior escalates, other unappreciated behaviors develop.
Cats usually have a legitimate reason for not using the litter box or doing other behaviors we don’t approve of. It’s up to us to figure out what these reasons are. We need to find what is triggering the behavior, then eliminate or modify the triggers. Usually environmental changes (ie, add more litter boxes, scoop, etc.) are needed along with behavior modification of both the cat and the human companion.
So, please, don’t punish a cat when she acts out. Punishment doesn’t work. It’s inhumane and it breaks the cat/human bond. Instead use positive methods. They are more effective, they build bonds and can last forever.