Raising a Happy Kitten

Claims he's not plotting anything.

Kittens are a special challenge because, like all young things, they have trouble remembering what they are supposed to do when what they want to do is uppermost in their mind.

So they will, like RJ, chase a fly into a lamp and break it. As distressing as broken stuff might be, this is actually something unlikely to happen again. If it made a big noise at the time of its demise, the kitten will decide on their own that this was not a good idea. That’s why a broken lamp will keep them off tables, but they will rip apart roll after roll of toilet paper unless we interfere. One makes a big bad noise. The other is fun.

Aside from writing off breakage as a lesson learned, what can we do about kittens? The first step is kitten proofing. Now is the time to secure or remove potential problems. We don't just tell toddlers not to stick their fingers in electrical sockets. We recognize they can't grasp the concept, and take steps.

Some temptations must remain, such as the tangle of cords around the television or stereo. These hold a special fascination, and also require special handling. When the kitten tries to play with them, we try to catch the kitten's attention with a stern (not loud) tone, and remove them from the wires or distract them with a thrown toy. If the kitten persists, we can give them a timeout in another room. Always give them an alternative that they get praise for choosing, by cooing at them and telling them "That's a good kitten."

Kittens do respond to praise and affection, but sometimes it is not enough if they find the wires too seductive. Since they obviously like this kind of toy, make them some. Find or create a safe alternative that uses string or yarn. Get a dangly toy that will distract them. Keep these toys out and in use, so we don't train them to play with the wires in order to get attention. They should be getting lots of attention anyway, especially when they are being good. How else will they learn what being good means?

If they still persist in playing with wires, we have to persuade them the wires are not good to be played with. Since we are dealing with electronics, the best method is the canned air used to clean delicate equipment. A quick blast when they attack the wires will make the kitten think the wires hissed at them, and next time might be worse. That is what will persuade them.

RJ has learned, via praise and gentle scolding, to leave everything alone; except Puffy. We do use a squirt bottle when he harasses Puffy. Unless a kitten is a Gamma, who can be disciplined with a disapproving look, most kittens will find something irrestible and require something a little more persuasive. The important point is to not overuse this last ditch method. At this point, all we need do is shake the bottle, and RJ remembers he's not supposed to bother Puffy.

We must keep that realization uppermost in our minds. Kittens don't misbehave to spite us, torment us, or make us unhappy. Kittens misbehave because they have, at the moment, forgotten. The gentlest way of reminding them will increase their ability to do so, while at the same time safeguarding our now and future relationship.

We got the kitten to have someone to love. Remember?

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