Behavior analysis as a basis for your cat training – You want to raise your cat? And you want to use friendly methods and achieve the best for you and your cat? Then it is worth your while to be careful and methodical. For many behaviors, if we understand why a cat does or does something, then we can steer it quite well in the desired direction.

The ABC of behavioural analysis

ABC in this case stands for English terms that are used in the so-called functional behavior analysis. These can guide you to look closely at different aspects of your cat’s behaviour:

A (Antecedents) – triggers and causes:

What factors preceded your cat’s behavior?

What did she do before?

What did she experience immediately before?

For example, what did you, your child or another cat do?

What happened in the minutes, hours and days before?

How was your cat when it started behaving? Was she happy, scared, hungry, angry?

How was her health?

B (behaviour) – Behaviour:

What exactly does your cat do?

What exactly do you or the person or other cat who might be involved in the behaviour do?

Try to describe everything in detail and not to interpret or evaluate it.

Instead of: “My cat used the opportunity and stole the meat”, the description would be: “My cat jumped on the table, put a piece of meat in her mouth and walked into the living room with it”.

Instead of “My cat went crazy” the description could be: “My cat growled, retreated a bit and hunkered down. When I reached out to her to calm her down, she hit my hand with claws extended and hurt me.”

The description of the behaviour also includes details of the body language:

How relaxed or tense is your cat?

What is the position of your cat’s ears or tail?

What is the size of the eyes and pupils? Is the fur smooth?

How does she move?

From such information it can be interpreted in the next step, which feelings caused your cat to behave. The growling cat described above has retreated. She may have had large pupils and defensive ears on the side of her head. The movement and facial expressions would then both speak for fear or discomfort. A cat, on the other hand, who jumps at your leg for a short time and then runs away in a canter, was only joking.

C (consequences) – Consequences:

What does your cat do for itself through its behavior?

What needs can it satisfy?

What are the pleasurable things she can achieve?

Maybe your cat can get your attention by meowing, for example, or make sure she gets food from you.

But also: What unpleasant things can she prevent or stop through her behaviour? The growling cat ends the touch by scratching, which is apparently inappropriate for her at this moment.

Cats learn by the consequences of their behaviour. If a behaviour leads to something unpleasant and the cat combines the unpleasant with its behaviour, then it will be inhibited in the future to show this behaviour (in similar situations). If she experiences the consequences as pleasant, she will probably use it again.

Behavioural Strategies or: Practice Practice Practice!

The more frequently a cat behaves, the more it becomes a habit or even an automatic reaction. And the more difficult it becomes for your cat to try a different behaviour in a similar situation in the future, or for you to encourage it to behave differently. Experts then talk about solidified behavioural strategies. The cat has learned that a certain behaviour is successful for it in the broadest sense. She shows it in the meantime because she always does it that way. This works for cats as well as for us humans.

What does that mean for cat training?

1. observation

Observe and analyze the behavior of your cat.

Are there typical correlations?

Can you find patterns?

Example: The cabbages between my cats Sia and Sunny are mainly just before the feeding time.

Sia quickly becomes aggressive when Sunny gets too close to her. After eating she obviously has no problem with that.

2. to recognize triggers and causes

Find the triggers and causes of unwanted behavior and change them. Example: Hunger in Sia may be a trigger for aggressive behavior towards Sunny.

Consider whether you can adjust the feeding times to your needs, perhaps with the help of a feeding machine. Many cats are more relaxed with frequent small meals instead of less large ones.

See if Sia becomes less aggressive towards Sunny if you don’t let her get hungry in the first place.

3. early reaction

Become active at an early stage and intervene prudently instead of letting the unwanted behaviour happen and then reacting to it.

The more rarely your cat experiences this behaviour, which may have worthwhile consequences for itself, the better.

Example: Sia quickly learns that it’s good for her to react briefly to Sunny. She can then relieve tension. Unfortunately Sia translates this into other situations. She soon uses Sunny as a lightning rod when she’s bored and doesn’t get any attention from you.

For Sunny, however, this is not pleasant and in the medium term the relationship between the two can suffer. Therefore: If you notice that Sia becomes restless, or if you know that a critical time is approaching, shape the situation.

If possible, try to help Sia meet her needs. If necessary, redirect her attention to something that improves her mood, or help her find another way to relieve tension (such as a wheel or valerian pillow) – before poor Sunny feels his first paw!

4. desired cat behaviour

Think about how you want your cat to behave. Choose behaviors that are easy for your cat.

Then make sure that this behaviour is worthwhile for your cat as often as possible!

Tip: The better a reward matches your cat’s actual needs, the more valuable – and effective – it will be.

Example: You wish that Sia would be quiet and friendly in drawing your attention to her needs. You notice through your attentive observation that before the attacks on Sunny she often comes to you and strokes around you. You decide to react to the rubbing on your leg in the future and make it a successful behavioral strategy for Sia. Depending on the situation, you will now respond to Sia’s rubbing on your leg with attention and play, a different activity offer or a portion of food. Often a combination of both could be perfect, e.g. a filled fummel board or dry food wrapped in kitchen paper, which Sia can capture by shredding the paper.

Final Thoughts

This is only a small insight into behavioral analysis and its application to changing your cat’s behavior – education is nothing more than behavioral change. Sometimes it is very easy to apply this scheme. In other cases it is quite difficult. Especially if the behavior you want to change already seems habitual or is accompanied by strong feelings, especially fear or anger, let a cat behaviorist help you with this analysis.

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If you want to learn more about cat behavior, have a look at the Common Cat Behaviors & How to Train Your Cat.

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Behavior analysis for your cat training