Train cats? Plants they can safely eat?
July 31, 2006 1:34 PM   Subscribe

A two-parter. Is it _really_ possible to train a cat? And if not, what kind of houseplants should I get that my cat can chew on and not regurgitate (as much?) ?

This damn cat runs my house. I've used the water bottle to squirt him when he gets on the kitchen counter, but he just thinks it's fun, and waits until the second I've put it down to get back up. Every time, over and over.

And secondly, he loves to chew on one of my plants, even though every single frigging time he pukes up later, and has his servant humans clean it up. Anybody have _experience_ with a particular type of houseplant that I can get that he can chew on without such repercussions?

Or maybe I'm just completely whipped.
posted by rexruff to Pets & Animals (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Cat grass.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:37 PM on July 31, 2006

Try putting Bitter Apple on the leaves.
posted by radioamy at 1:47 PM on July 31, 2006

It is true. You cannot train a cat.

You can only provide them with more enjoyable things to do than what they're currently doing (or destroying).

The squirt bottle will only teach the cat to not do what he's doing while you are there.
posted by twiggy at 1:54 PM on July 31, 2006

Cute cat.

re kitchen counter: put several pennies into an aluminum soda/beer can. Tie a short piece of string to the can, the other end to a kitchen towel. Lay towel across the counter (overhang the counter's edge) where the cat is likely to jump up. Cat jumps up, slips on towel, makes the can rattle. Alternatively, forget the towel, hold the can in your hand, hide *out of sight of the cat* and shake it when he jumps up. Cats usually dislike the noise and associate the bad noise w/ the countertop.

The key to aversion training with a cat is to not let the cat associate *you* with the loud noise/squirt of water/whatever else because they quickly realize "Hey, I just have to wait until the damn human is gone."

Re the chewing of houseplants. I second cat grass. Sprout your own using seeds from a natural food store, the $5/tiny tub the pet stores charge is just silly. Might also want to check your houseplants against this list, some houseplants are toxic to pets.
posted by jamaro at 1:56 PM on July 31, 2006

What's so bad about the kitchen counter?
posted by baklavabaklava at 1:56 PM on July 31, 2006

baklavabaklava, some people are weird about paws that have stepped in a litter box walking around on food preparation surfaces. I know; I don't get it either.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:59 PM on July 31, 2006

posted by pracowity at 2:06 PM on July 31, 2006

Best answer: I found that it was far easier to train my cats to do something than to not do something.

For example, I trained both of my cats to sit up and beg on command without batting. I tried to train one of my cats from staying out of the cabinets/fridge, and all I did was train him to open simple cabinet latches. I tried to train him to stay out of the kitchen trash can and all I did was manage to train him to defeat several casual security methods until it was inconvenient for me to get into the trash.

I agree with the statement that the key to aversion therapy is that punishment must appear to come from the hand of God.
posted by plinth at 2:06 PM on July 31, 2006

People say you can't train a cat, but it is possible. They're much harder to train than Dogs, but it's the same mentality, you have to be the Alpha. You won't get them to play fetch or do things on command, but you will be able to show them what they can and can't do.

My cat Dexter knows which counters he can be on, and which he can't. We don't have any plants in the house, but he does know that while he can eat anything we give him, he cannot go after the catnip and catmint that is growing in the garden. He knows who he can and can't play with, and when a new situation comes up, and I'm around, he will look at me to get my permission before doing something (found that out when he was introduced to our bunnies... He was stalking them, then realized that he might not be able to do that, looked at me, I replied with a soft "no", and he sauntered off outside where he CAN chase things.)

Twiggy does point out a flaw in most cat training... a cat's first instinct is that if they can't do something while you're watching, then they can do it while you are away. Cats are smarter than dogs, though, and they can piece together that if they did something earlier, and you weren't around, but the next time you were around, they were brought near what they did, then punished, then they have to be even sneakier.

We once had a cat that would nibble on any food that was left out... he wouldn't take bites out of it, or eat something entirely, he'd just nibble the corner, as if to say "ha, I ate some of your muffin and you didn't realize it!"...

I've been criticized for being a bit heavy-handed with my pets, but I've had nothing but success with handling cats and dogs (I never tried training the bunnies, their attention span is all of 10 seconds)... And the people I've helped train their cats have all thanked me profusely...

Our latest addition, Fred (roommie's cat), was abused and maltreated... Our first scuffle ended with me having a puncture straight through my hand between thumb and forefinger. In the three months he's lived with us, he's learned not to bite, and he's in the process of learning where he can and can't go. He hasn't broken skin in 3 weeks, though he still nips to tell people he's upset, its nothing that hurts. Our roomie is sooo happy that she doesn't have gashes up and down her arm anymore, and Fred has calmed down now that he knows who makes the decisions.

The philosophy/technique that is closest to what I use is called Nothing in Life is Free, read up on it, it's written for dogs, but applies to cats as well.
posted by hatsix at 2:16 PM on July 31, 2006

Response by poster: plinth, thanks for the giggle. jamaro, i'm just sucker enough to try the towel idea...thanks

and everybody else, I appreciate the cat grass idea, but I also have a kitchen gallery window I'd like to fill with some decent-looking short of working through the whole "nonpoisonous to cats" list, I'm looking for specific recommendations. For example, he doesn't seem too interested in my potted lily, but he loves the dracaena warnecki (which makes him puke).

Or will catgrass keep him busy so he chews less on other plants?

Thank you very much for all the suggestions.
posted by rexruff at 2:33 PM on July 31, 2006

>some people are weird about paws that have stepped in a litter box walking around on food preparation surfaces
oh, i just use a cutting board or wipe down the counter first. either way seems easier than training a cat.
posted by baklavabaklava at 2:42 PM on July 31, 2006

Thank goodness he doesn't like the lily - lilies can be poisonous to your cat!

I have had zero luck training my cat not to scratch on things, so I'm of no help in the training department. Just keep that lily away from your little stinker.
posted by misskaz at 2:47 PM on July 31, 2006

Yeah, pets (and children) do need to know who's the boss. Not that they need to be terrorized or anything, but challenges to authority need to be met or you end up on one of those nanny parenting shows (or posting to Metafilter).

You can try the subtle approach: duct tape, sticky side up, laid on edge of counter, is one example. But this only works for the one area. Or you can try to be the boss. For example, this might require taking the cat off the counter, holding him by the scruff of the neck, and spraying him thoroughly with a water bottle for 20 seconds or so. Then you let him sulk a bit, then you go in, dry him off and pet him until he purrs.

The lesson is: your life will be easier, cat, if you conduct it in accordance with the Master's wishes. Even very dense cats will understand this lesson after the second repetition.
posted by jellicle at 2:47 PM on July 31, 2006

so short of working through the whole "nonpoisonous to cats" list, I'm looking for specific recommendations.

Cats generally won't eat succulents. Some nice-looking, not-overly-spiny indoor succulents include jade plant, christmas cactus, aloe vera, and ponytail palm. You can try out-and-out cacti as well, if you choose a type that won't spike your cat if he decides to investigate.

I use spider plants as "cat decoys" -- my cats love to eat them, they grow like weeds, and it's easy to make more, as you can cut off the offshoots and pot them.
posted by vorfeed at 3:21 PM on July 31, 2006

Shooting water is effective if the cat can't see where it's coming from. You have to hide the sprayer behind your back so he can't see it. Also, cats don't like aluminum foil - you can put sheets of it on the edges of your countertop (normally you would be able to get rid of the foil after the cat associates it with the counter).
posted by candyland at 3:30 PM on July 31, 2006

I had some success training my cat - also a tabby of ferocious appearance - using Karen Pryor's book on clicker training for cats. Her website says that "You'll learn how to teach your cat ... to stay off the table."
posted by paduasoy at 4:34 PM on July 31, 2006

I've had luck with Scat Mats from Drs. Foster and Smith catalog. I had kitties that acted like alarm clocks, pawing my bedroom door when it was almost time for my alarm to go off. Unfortunately, they didn't adjust for Daylight Savings Time... I also used them on the kitchen counter, and around my Christmas tree.

I second Bitter Apple for the plants, after carefully making sure none of your plants is toxic.
posted by Corky at 4:43 PM on July 31, 2006

You can certainly train kittens. My sister had hers sitting, staying and coming on command.

For aversion, I've always found loud noises work well. Generally just clapping will make either of the two cats who own me remember the rules.
posted by pompomtom at 6:05 PM on July 31, 2006

I second the 'loud noises' suggestion, especially if you can sneak up on the cat beforehand. Air horns work well in this regard, and you don't have to have line-of-sight to the cat. Watch out for the neighbors, though. Otherwise, jellicle's suggestion of duct tape probably will work.
Again, if the cat associates you with the correction, he will just do it when you aren't there.
posted by ArbiterOne at 6:48 PM on July 31, 2006

I once saw a girl in Yoyogi Park who could get her cat to jump into her arms on command, and also to play hide and seek. The cat would run and hide behind a tree and the girl would then go find the cat. After they had played like this for a while, the cat hopped in the girl's jacket, she zipped it up, and they rode off.
posted by ejoey at 7:00 PM on July 31, 2006

I trained my command to scratch a scratching post on command and to jump through a hoop (for treats); while it's not the same as training him not to do bad things, I think it increased our communication with each other; now, if I just say 'no', he'll stop what he's doing 95% of the time, and he seems pretty content with what he's allowed to do.
posted by amtho at 7:53 PM on July 31, 2006

Best answer: Your cat is cute! in that sloe-eyed "yeah, you're my bitch" kind of way...

We have 2 cats and about 30 plants. After watching a bonsai plant get decimated, we ended up putting almost all of them on furniture or stands. If there's not enough room for them to get at them, they won't. And yet: there are plants on the kitchen table they never bother with, even though they get on the table. My personal theory is that, for them, if it's fun to bat, it's fun to eat.

And as far as training cats in general: ours are 11 years old. You'd think they won't do anything new, huh? This past weekend, one just discovered a great game that involves running into the livingroom at full speed then leaping on the coffee table, sending everything on it flying off. It's, umm, a huge amount of fun (for those of us that don't have to pick up the room). If an old cat can learn new tricks, you should be able to train any cat to do good ones.
posted by sfkiddo at 8:10 PM on July 31, 2006

I got the same problem, never been solved. I ended up hanging all my plants from the ceiling, which works fine...or you could just plant some lilies--that'll teach 'em.
posted by lester the unlikely at 11:00 PM on July 31, 2006

I second the suggestions to grow some cat grass and to move your houseplants out of your cat's reach. It's worth going through the various lists of plants that are toxic to cats and removing any you have that are listed. Do this to avoid your cat coming to harm from poisoning and also to save yourself some mighty vet bills.

Cats need to chew on plant matter (.pdf) to alleviate problems such as hairballs. Plant fiber, in sufficient, semi masticated quantities causes them to vomit up anything they don't want inside them. So, your cat isn't just being 'naughty', he's trying to sort his insides out, by getting rid of bile and hairballs. Some extra grooming may help here.

Yes it is possible to train cats. As with all animal/human training you will only truely succeed by using motivational and humane techniques, based on what drives your cat & reward for the behaviour that you want. Punishment of any sort will only teach your cat to fear punishment & you.

Generally, if adrenalin in the learner is high then the learning acheived will be low. Consequences from action (such as the hidden squirt bottle) need to happen during an unwanted behaviour rather than after for the animal to associate the consequence with it's behaviour. Therefore, suggestions to scruff your cat and soak it with a squirt bottle for 20 seconds are not only cruel, they are ineffective as training methods.

Make sure your cat has plenty of cat toys and plenty of time playing with you, with rewards for good behaviour.

Good luck!
posted by Arqa at 1:16 AM on August 1, 2006

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