Maybe you’ve noticed that cats have problems with the word no. It seems to be something they don’t understand. And you are right, in a way. No — at least when humans say it — often has little meaning to us! When you tell your cat no, here is what they hear:
- The human doesn’t want me to do that. So?
- The human thinks they can tell me what to do. So I’d better do more of what is bothering them!
- The human is really upset about what I’m doing! I’d better leave and come back later when they’re not around.
- Huh? Did I hear something? I guess not.
Can you tell that none of this adds up to the cat stopping whatever they are doing, except maybe briefly? That’s because you are approaching no all wrong when it comes to cats. Here are some tips to help with your cat-human communication skills.
Admit it: You are not the boss of your cat
No matter how hard you try, you can never truly exert dominance over a cat. Dogs will accept a benign dictator. But cats, while they may love you and depend on you for their basic needs, have no master. So if your no comes from you expecting your cat to obey just because you’re the human and you’re bigger and you pay the rent, honestly, they just won’t care.
Think before you no
Cats, of course, don’t understand language. Which is actually a good thing because it means we speak all languages! What we do understand is intent and inflection. We understand what humans say by their tone of voice. And with our fine sense of hearing, we get inflections that you may not even realize you are giving out. They know if you are saying no because you are mad at them — and they also know if you are saying no because you are honestly scared for their safety. But you need to be really clear.
That’s where thinking comes in. You need to put the right kind of thought and feeling behind your no. If you are hysterical, overly emotional, or having a fit of anger, that will override the no. Your cat will react to the emotion, not your desire. That’s why a cat comes back to continue doing the things you told them not to do. They don’t understand why you stopped them, and they just don’t want to upset you.
So make sure your no is firm, consistent and relatively free of emotion. Your point will be clearer.
No should usually be accompanied by options
Just saying no is not good enough for a cat. They want to know what’s in it for them. So give them something better or more interesting than the thing they are doing that you don’t want. One of the biggest reasons your nos are falling on deaf kitty ears is because you aren’t giving your cat something better to do instead. Better may mean location, comfort, privacy, or anything else specific to the situation. Know your cat’s preferences and that will give you some ideas.
Accompany no with discouragement
Cats do things you don’t like because they either find pleasure in it or they are stressed. If it’s the former, make the thing or action less pleasurable. Covering up or adding sticky tape to sofas, and making counters uncomfortable and unpleasant places to walk are two common solutions. These methods work best when they are accompanied by options. Cats don’t live in a vacuum — take something away, and you need to replace with something of equal or better value.
Sometimes no needs to be accompanied by removing something
There are just some things your cat is not going to stop doing without intervention. You can’t expect to leave meat on the counter without having to shoo your cat away every few minutes. Either the food will have to be placed out of the cat’s reach, or the cat will have to be placed somewhere until the meat is stored.
Same thing with situations like chewing on electrical cords. this is what cord protectors and child locks are for. If something is a danger to a cat, it’s better to add safety measures than to rely on them to know that no means no.
As you can see, no means nothing to a cat. You need to accompany that no with a lot of thought, action, and problem solving. If you learn to understand your cat and why they are doing what they do, amazingly enough, they will learn to understand your nos a lot better!
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