Help me re-train my cat!
February 28, 2007 2:00 PM   Subscribe

My cat begs for attention when I am on the computer. I have tried to wear her out before I get online with lots of love and play time, and I've also tried distracting her in appropriate ways (fishing pole and laser pointer) while I'm on the computer. The problem seems to be getting worse, and it has just occured to me that I've accidentally trained her to think of computer time as play time. What do I do?

I read some of the other askmefis about cat training, but I would love some specific advice about my girl, because I have not had very much luck with distraction, a firm 'no', or ignoring it.

Last night, I played with her for an hour and a half, and she was just starting to drift off to sleep when I got up and sat down in my computer chair. Then she sprang into action with her usual routine: jumping on the keyboard, jumping on the printer and pulling things off the bulletin board, sneaking up and clawing me from behind (bare skin between my pants and shirt) and sneaking underneath and spiking the undersides of my thighs when I have my feet up. She definitely prefers these things to the fishing pole, and will do them even if I am offering play alternatives.

I try to remind myself that she just wants attention and thinks it's a game, but this will go on for hours and it makes it very difficult for me to get work done, and it also makes me pretty frustrated. I don't want to lock her away because I love spending time with her (she is incredibly sweet and loving and can spend hours sleeping on my lap when she is tired), and she has a fair amount of alone time as it is (2 four hour chunks during the day--bf comes home for lunch), but I am at my wits end.

She has been living with us for a year and a half and is about 2. The problem has been getting progressively worse. Anybody have any ideas for me?
posted by paddingtonb to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My cat frequently becomes super clingy when I'm on the computer too. I've always assumed that she's just jealous. What is this box that my person is giving so much attention to when she should be giving attention to me? (I imagine she wonders in her abstract kitty way).

I've had limited success with distracting her in another room with toys or treats. Mostly I just wrap my legs in a blanket so it isn't so uncomfortable when she spikes me in the ankle.

I guess you could try a squirt gun or a spray mister full of water (although some people find this to be a little mean) or a shaker (think coins in a can) to make a loud noise to scare her off for a few minutes.

I've had good luck training the cat to stay away from places were she shouldn't be with liberal use of those clear double-stick strips. I originally got them to keep her from scratching the couch but found that I could put them on flat surfaces, like my desk, where I didn't want her to be. After a few times hopping up and feeling the weird feeling on her paws, she stopped.
posted by mostlymartha at 2:20 PM on February 28, 2007

you played with your cat for an hour and a half straight? holy shit!

your problem is that you're losing the power struggle with your cat. she would have you be her servant every waking minute if she could get away with it. jeeves, bring me some foie gras and a couple of sparrows, please!

i play with my cat for about a minute at a time, several times a day. she frequently hops up on my desk chair when i'm not using it, so when i want to use my computer i just tell her, madeline, somebody's gonna have to get up now! a gentle push and she gets the idea. if she did the kind of things you describe, i would just ignore her, and eventually she would stop. people and animals both will eventually discontinue behavior which does not reward them. you need to teach yourself how to ignore your cat, so you can get your life back. good luck!
posted by bruce at 2:21 PM on February 28, 2007

Best answer: We have the "sad cat room" where sad cats are sent to chill out when they make too much mischief.

It's a very mild punishment, but it is a punishment. Eventually she'll figure out that if she tries to bother you when you're at the computer, she'll end up alone in the sad cat room.
posted by hermitosis at 2:32 PM on February 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Bruce, my cat is a Madeline too! I was probably exaggerating on the hour-and-a-half thing-- It was probably more like 45 minutes while I ate dinner. I was just trying to avoid the "you're not giving your cat enough attention!" folks :)

But you make a good point. She defintely doesn't do the same stuff with my bf when he is on the computer. And it seems to be something she has learned gets a rise out of me. Admittedly, it is difficult to ignore her when her ass is in my face and she is standing on the keyboard mysteriously changing the settings to make every "D" an "!" but that's a question for another week.

Thanks for the tips all!
posted by paddingtonb at 2:46 PM on February 28, 2007

I have the same problem. My cat often perches herself, head down, ass up, alongside the face of the monitor and stares at me. She blocks the dang thing and meows viciously, seeming to say "what the hell is wrong with you, why are trying to look past me instead of petting me!?!" I've resorted to littering my entire desk with tall objects, a kitty obstacle course. But alas, she is cleverer than I and has found a way to stand on stilts (pens and the like), as well as tightrope along the edges of monitors and such. At least she tries to.

I would very much like an answer to your question as well.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:50 PM on February 28, 2007

Best answer: Had a similar recent problem with my own cat. There was the thing she wanted to do (sleep on my head), the thing she didn't want to do (get locked out of the bedroom for the night), and the happy medium we "agreed" on (sleep at the foot of the bed).

It took some patience and commitment. Cat jumps on pillow 1st time = cat gets loud "no!" and removed to foot of bed. 2nd time = loud "no!" and removed to foot of bed. 3rd time = loud "no!" and locked out of room.

10 minutes of pitiful mewing at door; let cat back in. Repeat steps.

After about three rounds, she "gets it" and stays at foot of bed.

This was a multi-day process. She'd "get it" faster each night, and it took 3 or 4 days to commit the new behavior.

Maybe you could set out a basket or folded blanket or other approved "kitty work space," near the desk so that she feels close but far enough she's not tempted to play. Use that as your happy medium while you re-train, with "locked out of office" as worst-case scenario.
posted by pineapple at 2:53 PM on February 28, 2007

Best answer: Tough love works for me. I pick my cat up and toss her off the side of my desk if she does the keyboard stroll or the sit-and-block or the loll and block or the knock-knock-knock on my arm. I give her a little toss, and then encourage other behavior. I occasionally bribe/reinforce it with catnip toys. I do not let her down gently, but I don't toss her at the wall either. It's well within her normal jumping range.

But mostly, it's being consistant. I toss her with a loud No! Initially, I had to toss her a couple of times each time before she figured it wasn't a game, but she's learned. I'm ruthless about it. I don't charm or sweet-talk her off it, I pick her up immediately and dump her on the ground with a No. Now, when she gets on top of my monitor, it's for the heat (since I have an old school big ol' monitor) and a nap and she hasn't hung herself over the front in several years.

My cat is a person sitter and will enact the death scene from Camille for the benefit of all of my visitors in her never-ending quest for attention. She's learned that if I'm in bed or on the couch, she can get petted, played with, snooze on my hip, etc. If I'm on the computer, the best she can get is a light scratch/massage with my feet (something I can do idly).
posted by julen at 3:09 PM on February 28, 2007

Maybe you could set out a basket or folded blanket or other approved "kitty work space," near the desk so that she feels close but far enough she's not tempted to play

That's what I was going to suggest. I have a cardboard box (which my cats love) covered with a wool blanket (which they also love) within Lean Back And Pet The Whining Cat distance of my desk chair.

Also, another cat might help depending on your circumstances.
posted by Cyrano at 3:20 PM on February 28, 2007

You just have to - HAVE TO - keep gently pushing her off the desk while giving a loud "No!" And if my cat got in the habit of clawing my feet or legs, I'd be using a spray bottle of water in a heartbeat. That's just completely unacceptable behavior from a pal I feed and care for every day.
posted by mediareport at 4:05 PM on February 28, 2007

In reading everyone's responses, I realize I'm a terrible cat owner, because if my cat bugged me while I needed to work, I would make sure the cat knew that it was not acceptable. But rather than explaining to her in a reasonable tone that Owner No Work = Cat No Food, I would just deny her access to me while I was on the computer. This could mean closing the door to the room where my computer was, or, if there was no door, I would put the cat in a room (the laundry room, the bathroom, whatever) with a door. Seriously, you're at least 10 times the size of an average cat -- make her listen. Pick her up and toss her away from the area.

Also, swiping at my ankles or legs is an ABSOLUTE NO in my house, and would get her squirted with water from the squirt gun. Hell, if she begs for food while I'm eating, I pour some water from my water glass on her head. She's no worse for wear, either -- it's just water! It startles her and sends her running.

And, lest anyone think my cat is neurotic because of the rules I enforce, she is considered to be very friendly and social with other humans, including complete strangers.
posted by parilous at 4:34 PM on February 28, 2007

my madeline is a tuxedo kitty, green eyes and long, lustrous black fur with a white blaze down her chest and four white feet. she's friendly, curious, and has a long, dulcet meow which she uses frequently when i approach or to tell me she's hungry. what's your madeline like?
posted by bruce at 4:34 PM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Bruce, your madeline sounds a lot like my torey :)
He has greenish eyes and very soft black fur on his back and between the eyes. Then his wee paws are white, as though he's wearing shoes :)

I realize I've gone off on a tangent....

Paddingtonb, when I jump on my laptop and torey comes by to "play" after a mere five mins has passed by. I jump off the computer and walk towards the living room (to lure him away from my working area). Once there, I set up toys for him or turn on the telly. If that doesnt work, a sure-fire way of keeping him in the living room while I work is to open the shades to the balcony, better yet, the sliding door, ensuring that the protective mesh is closed. He loves to people watch, as most cats do and sits there, seemingly hypnotized.

I truly hope you find a method that works :)
posted by seeminglyshy at 4:59 PM on February 28, 2007

Maybe you could set out a basket or folded blanket or other approved "kitty work space," near the desk so that she feels close but far enough she's not tempted to play.

This worked for a friend when he was writing his dissertation. He put a chair next to his chair and put a blanket on it. She would sleep there all day.
posted by salvia at 6:33 PM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm going with a full scale attack. I set out the tin foil on top of the printer; I set up a bed next to the chair, with a spray bottle of water next to that for spare clawings, and I've now done the firm "no" and onto the bed twice since I've been writing this :)

It's also nice to know that if she has to stay out of the room when I'm working I'm not being a bad kitty mama

Here is a picture of my little Madeline when she is being a sweet girl

** One thing more**
It has taken me 20 minutes or so to type up this post, I'm working on dinner at the same time, and she is now sitting quietly on her bed! This is amazing. You guys are great.
posted by paddingtonb at 6:54 PM on February 28, 2007

An earlier post suggested canned air to spray at the cat for unwanted behaviors. The canned air may work better than water around your computer.

I have a large seat office chair. Smokey has learned to lay wrapped around my side with his head held just right will get him continuous head rubs while I'm using my mouse.
posted by JujuB at 8:19 PM on February 28, 2007

I must say I'm having a blast with Madeline. She sounds like a lot of fun (from here)!
posted by AnyGuelmann at 8:43 PM on February 28, 2007

Charles the Terrible likes to play chase the cursor on the screen. My next cat is going to be transparent.
posted by Raybun at 6:17 AM on March 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Our cat is definitely a Daddy's girl. When he gets dressed to go out for an errand, she climbs on the nearest piece of furniture and grabs his shirt as he tries to put it on. She obviously doesn't want him to leave. I can type at the computer all day (Mr. A and I both work from home) and she doesn't bother me. But every time Mr. A tries to work, Tweak (the cat) first insinuates herself between him and the screen. Then, when he keeps working (by virtue of sitting up straighter so he can see his monitor), she'll climb onto his lap and then get up onto one of his typing arms and put her full body weight onto it. I've always presumed it was just a matter of jealousy - why is Daddy paying attention to this Thing instead of glorious me?
posted by Oriole Adams at 3:23 PM on March 1, 2007

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