You may have heard the phrase, “Cats can’t be trained.”
And while it’s true that training a dog can be easier than training a cat, it can be done. It is a myth that cats can’t learn. So, if you have a cat who is scratching the furniture, there are steps you can take to stop the destructive behavior.
Cats don’t claw the furniture because they’re mad or being vindictive; cats scratch because it’s an instinctual behavior. Scratching feels good, it leaves behind their scent (marking territory), and it removes the dead parts of their claws. Scratching is good for their nail health.
You can’t stop your cat from scratching, but you can deter him from scratching the furniture (the walls and the carpet!). But be prepared to try various methods before your cat understands that your furniture is not his scratching post.
Deterring Your Cat From Scratching Furniture
Offer alternatives. If your cat scratches your furniture (or another area you do not prefer), put a scratching post there. Your cat may have a reason, of which you are not aware, to scratch that particular piece of furniture. She cannot distinguish between “your couch” and “my scratching post.” So, move the scratching post to the area your cat is clawing.
Place different posts around the house. You don’t have to have the scratching post just in the area your cat is damaging. Provide several different types of scratching posts in various areas of the home. It may keep him interested in those and help him lose interest in your furniture.
Train your cat what to scratch. When you catch your cat scratching the couch, gently move his paws to the scratching post you have placed next to the furniture. If he begins scratching the post, not the furniture, praise him and give him a treat. Yes, cats love praise and treats too.
Try different styles of scratching posts. Some cats love to scratch vertical posts, others enjoy horizontal posts. Some cats enjoy scratching sisal rope, others enjoy corrugated scratchers while others love to scratch carpeted posts, cardboard, or even tree branches. Experiment until you find a scratching post style your cat enjoys. Keep in mind your cat may enjoy a horizontal corrugated scratcher one day and a vertical sisal post the other. Variety is the spice of scratching life.
Make the couch unattractive. You can use a pet-friendly citrus spray to deter the cat from scratching, but if you’re putting a scratching post next to the couch, the scent may deter him from the post as well. Try putting double-sided tape on the couch at the same time you put the scratching post next to the couch.
Use toys to get him interested in the scratching post. When you place the scratching posts next to the areas your cat is damaging, play with a wand toy next to the scratching post to get your cat interested in it. You can even sprinkle catnip on the scratching posts to get your cat even more interested in using the posts.
Other (Non-recommended) Deterrence Methods
Declawing. This procedure amputates part of the cat’s toe along with the nail. Non-invasive claw management is recommended over declawing.
Shaking a can of pennies. The noise will deter him because you’ll frighten him. This method merely teaches him to fear you, and the noise, not necessarily teach him to stop scratching the furniture.
Spraying with water. Some cat parents spritz their cat in the face with water because cats notoriously don’t like water. This teaches your cat to fear you (regardless of water bottle in hand); it doesn’t address what is appropriate to scratch and what is not.
Training a cat, or any animal, requires patience and providing alternatives to the behavior you’re trying to curb. Positive reinforcement is a better way to train your cat. Every time she scratches the post rather than the furniture you should praise her, pet her and give her a treat.
Editor’s Note: Scratching is a natural cat behavior. And while many cat owners struggle to mitigate this behavior, here are three non-surgical alternatives to declawing.