Newsday Tuesday – How To Train a Kitten

Or does a kitten train you?

When you adopt a kitten, it’s a little of both. You express your expectations and boundaries and so does the kitten. Olivia came to us with the basics. She was litterbox trained and she knew something about boundaries when engaging a human in play, but she needed time and patience when it came to her social skills.

Her comfort zone during her first several days was under a dresser. I could easily reach her and slide her out from under the bed on the bare floor, but I couldn’t get my hand under the dresser to drag her out from under there—so we had to come to different terms regarding that hiding spot. Olivia stayed under there for as long as she wanted to, and I had to come up with ways to lure her out—or just be patient and wait until her nap was over. I guess she was accustomed to sleeping on hard dirt because she rejected the cozy beds we offered—even a cushy blanket to lay on.

Thankfully, Olivia loved attention, so she soon began coming out more and more often when I’d ask her to. I was glad when she outgrew that space, but to this day she still likes to hide and that’s okay. I guess her beginnings, living under that house, made her somewhat of a cave-dweller. I just have to be careful not to close the closet door and lock her inside.

Another bit of training I had to do with this active, curious kitten involved keeping her off my keyboard. I spend hours every day creating cozy mystery stories featuring cats. I still use a desktop computer and a massive ergonomic keyboard (for the health of my wrists). And since the keyboard is where my hands are and since Olivia likes having those hands on her, she would often jump onto or dart across my computer desk. NOOOOOO Olivia!!!! This became a battle that broke my heart. What to do? Close Olivia out of my office when I was working? Reprimand her many times every day? I hated both of those options. I could work stress-free only while she was sleeping. I was going bonkers trying to give her the attention she wanted while keeping her off my keyboard. (The keyboard issue is not a problem when I’m not working. I cover it with a repurposed box lid when I walk away. I’d been doing that for years. Yes, cats on the keys was not anything new—but I’d never had such a determined kitten before.)

Finally—listen up those of you with a cat-on-the-keys problem—or a cat on the kitchen counter or…) I stopped to chat with a friend while walking one day—masks in place—and told her of our delightful kitten and how much we were enjoying her, except for…

Celeste worked with a world-renowned dog trainer at one time and she told me about a technique that she learned and that she uses with her own dogs—pennies in a can. I was desperate. I hated scaring a sweet kitten—but I had to do something. Sooooo, I found one of those old style tin coffee cans in the garage with nails in it. I emptied the nails, put a few pennies in the bottom of the can, and hid it next to my computer desk.

Soon here comes Olivia. She jumped onto the desk and I said, “No.” She ignored me, so I said, “No,” AND shook the can of coins from behind her—so she couldn’t see that I was doing it. The kitten dove off my desk and ran. Soon she came back and tried again—again, the sound freaked her out. Folks, it took four shakes and Olivia no longer stepped foot on my computer desk.

Oh, she tested her boundaries a time or two after that and I’d just say “no” or, if need be, I’d give that can a little shake. She’d retreat back to my lap and settle down. Lesson learned. I’ve noticed that my “No” has more clout with Olivia since I used the can of pennies technique with her. She’ll generally stop scratching the furniture when I say no and she’ll sometimes stop climbing the blinds. I do not use the can of pennies outside of my office. I don’t want to terrorize Olivia. I figure it’s one of those things where you have to pick your battles.

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