How Do You Let Your Cat Know You Are In Charge?

Establish yourself as the provider

One of the key ways to establish leadership with your cat is to make sure you are the one providing all of their needs. As the one responsible for food, water, shelter, toys, treats, and other items, you will position yourself as the provider in your cat’s eyes. Your cat will learn to rely on you for these necessities. Sources recommend making your cat work for these things by responding to commands. For example, have them sit before feeding or throw a toy for them to fetch. This reinforces that you control the resources they want. By being the sole provider and making your cat work for what they need, you establish your leadership role.

Ignore attention-seeking behaviors

If your cat meows for food or attention at inappropriate times, ignore the behavior until the cat is quiet. Then reward the quiet behavior by giving your cat some pets or treats. This teaches your cat that calm and quiet behavior gets rewarded while excessive vocalizations and pestering does not.

Be consistent and do not give in to your cat’s demands for attention if they are displaying undesirable behavior like meowing loudly in the middle of the night. With time, your cat will learn when it gets rewarded with your attention and when it does not. As stated in this article from The Spruce Pets, “You can often ease anxiety and stress by scheduling regular petting or play sessions in a quiet place and providing plenty of toys, vertical space, and cozy hiding spots.” https://www.thesprucepets.com/attention-seeking-behavior-in-cats-554033

Reward wanted behaviors

One of the most effective ways to encourage good behavior in cats is through positive reinforcement. When your cat engages in a wanted behavior like using the litter box or scratching a post, be sure to reward them with treats, affection, or praise. The key is to reward the behavior you want immediately after it happens so your cat associates that action with something positive. According to the ASPCA, “Rewards can be petting, verbal praise, treats, play or anything else your pet enjoys.”

Some examples of using positive reinforcement:

  • When your cat scratches their post instead of the couch, immediately give them a treat and enthusiastic praise so they connect scratching the post with a reward.
  • If your cat uses their litter box, pet them and give them a treat right after to reinforce that behavior.
  • When your cat sits calmly on your lap without biting, reward them with pets and kind words.

The most effective rewards are given immediately and consistently each time the wanted behavior occurs. With time and consistency, your cat will learn good habits through associating actions with positive outcomes. Just be patient – it may take a number of repetitions before the behavior becomes habit.

Sources:

https://www.hshv.org/training-cats-with-positive-reinforcement/

https://felinebehaviorsolutions.com/use-positive-reinforcement-good-cat-behavior/

The scent emitted from the scent glands on a cat’s paws and cheeks are a major form of communication, allowing cats to signify territory and mark their humans. By rubbing these scent glands on your cat, especially around the face, you can spread your own scent to make it clear that the cat is yours.

Use scent marking

Cats have scent glands in their paws, cheeks, tail, and other areas that produce pheromones and allow them to mark territory (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/cat-behavior-problems-marking-and-spraying-behavior). When a cat rubs against you, furniture, or other objects in your home, it is depositing these scents as a form of communication. This “bunting” behavior allows the cat to signify that you and areas of your home are its property.

As the human, you can assert your position as the cat’s provider and owner by rubbing the cat’s cheeks and head to spread your own scent. Gently petting around the cat’s face and head will transfer your scent from hands to cat. You can also rub the cat’s scent glands found on the paws and at the base of the tail. This mingling of scents clearly establishes you as the cat’s caretaker and helps reinforce your bond.

Regularly depositing your scent on the cat through bunting and scent marking allows you to claim both the cat and your territory. It signifies to the cat that you are the one in charge while also strengthening your relationship.

Limit access to areas

One effective way to establish yourself as the one in charge is to limit your cat’s access to certain areas of the home. As the caretaker, you control your cat’s environment. Use baby gates or closed doors to restrict your cat from entering rooms or areas you want to keep them out of.

For example, set up a baby gate in the doorway of a room you don’t want your cat in. The physical barrier reinforces that it’s a space that’s off limits. If the room has a door, simply keeping it closed will convey the same message. Your cat will learn over time that you control access to different parts of the home.

It’s best to be consistent and limit access completely, rather than sometimes allowing your cat into restricted areas. Closing doors or putting up baby gates establishes boundaries and communicates that you are in charge of your cat’s environment.

Source: https://cats.com/how-to-safely-keep-cats-out-of-a-room

Ignore Challenges

If your cat challenges you by biting, scratching, or swatting, it’s important to withdraw all attention. As stated by the Cornell Feline Health Center, “Recognizing aggression and startling an aggressive cat without physical contact is usually effective. Avoid situations that you know make a cat aggressive.” https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-behavior-problems-aggression

Don’t yell at or act scared of an aggressive cat, as this can reinforce the behavior. Instead, remain calm and ignore the cat completely. Walk away without making eye contact if needed. This shows the cat that aggression won’t get attention. Consistency is key, so everyone in the household should use this approach when challenged.

Be the one who greets

Initiate contact with your cat first when entering a room. Let them know you are returning to your territory. When you enter a room where your cat is, make the first move to greet them before they approach you. This establishes you as the leader coming back to your domain. Some ways to greet your cat include:

  • Gently petting or stroking them
  • Speaking to them in a calm, friendly tone
  • Offering treats or toys as part of the greeting ritual
  • Slow blinking at them as a sign of affection

Allow your cat to reciprocate the greeting if they choose. But by initiating the welcome first, you reinforce yourself as the provider returning on your terms. It also avoids situations where the cat tries to herd or challenge the human entering the territory.

With this simple greeting habit, you take the lead and pave the way for a harmonious relationship. Your cat learns you are in control but also loving and generous. Be consistent with greeting your cat first, and over time it becomes a natural routine showing who’s in charge.

Regular veterinary care

Bringing your cat to the vet for regular checkups and care is an important way to establish yourself as the one in charge of your cat’s wellbeing. As pet owners, we are responsible for managing all aspects of our cats’ health. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, cats should visit the vet at least once a year for a wellness exam. These annual visits allow the vet to spot potential problems early and provide preventative care.

Some cats may resist visits to the vet or find them stressful. However, it is our duty as cat owners to make these appointments and follow expert medical advice, even if our cats protest. As stated by Catvets.com, “A lot can happen in four ‘cat years,’ which is why yearly visits are so important. Cats are masters at hiding illness.” [1] Bringing a cat to the vet against their wishes demonstrates that you are fully in charge of managing their health.

Training

One of the most effective ways to establish yourself as the leader is through training your cat. Training allows you to positively reinforce wanted behaviors while correcting unwanted behaviors. Clicker training is an especially useful technique for cats.

With clicker training, you teach your cat to associate the “click” sound with receiving a reward. Once your cat understands this association, you can use the clicker to mark desired behaviors like sitting or staying on command. You then immediately reward the behavior with a treat or pets. This helps reinforce the connection between the action and reward in your cat’s mind.

Other useful commands to teach include “come” and “off” furniture. Always use positive reinforcement methods and be patient when training a cat. It may take many repetitions for them to understand what you want. But over time, this training allows you to communicate boundaries and rules, reinforcing you as the confident leader in your cat’s eyes. For more on effective clicker training methods, check out this guide.

Confident leadership

First, show confidence in your interactions by being firm but calm. As the American Association of Feline Practitioners advises, “Yelling or chasing the cat is counterproductive and will erode the human-animal bond” (AAFP). Remain composed even when the cat misbehaves, and don’t react emotionally. Project quiet authority through your body language and tone of voice.

Second, be consistent and assertive when enforcing rules and boundaries. According to veterinarian Dr. Justine Lee, “Cats crave routine and consistency” (PetMD). Set clear expectations for acceptable behaviors in different areas of the home. For example, keep the cat off kitchen counters or out of certain rooms. Then calmly and consistently redirect the cat whenever they cross a boundary.

Third, use rewards to reinforce wanted behaviors. The Spruce Pets advises rewarding cats with treats when they listen or behave properly to “establish yourself as a fair leader who gives as much as you take away” (The Spruce Pets). For instance, give a treat for coming when called or scratching appropriate surfaces. This positive reinforcement helps build trust and obedience.

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