How To Outsmart Your Overly-Smart Cat
Cats think they’re real smart. Just reeaalll clever. They think they’ve got us under their thumbs. (If they had thumbs, that is).
If you have one of these smarty pants cats, you’d know it. She’s the cat that knows to wait until you leave the room to jump on your countertops. The cat that stomps on your face to wake you up. The one who rearranges your furniture to better suit her needs.
Active, clever cats are a joy to live with, if handled and trained well.
Here’s how to outsmart a cat who seemingly has you outwitted at every turn.
Part 1: Cat Traps
After our move to Seattle, my cat Sita went through a phase where she’d claw her way up the clothes in our closet to get to the linen shelves above. So many mornings we’d wake up, wondering where our customary morning cat greeting had gone, to find her snuggled up high in some dark corner of our closet.
2 major problems here:
- Her preferred nesting spots consisted of freshly-laundered towels and bedsheets
- She was leaving a trail of shredded clothes in her wake
Now, even if we’d caught her in the act, shouting and scolding would only have made her afraid of us. Rather than correcting her behavior, scolding may have exacerbated her anxiety and spurred on her efforts to seek a safe roosting spot.
With overly-clever cats (like my little turd), any corrections should be designed to make the cat think her behavior change is her idea.
This is where cat traps come in. In our closet, I rigged a bag of empty soda cans to fall if our clothes were prodded too excessively—and after a few summiting attempts thwarted by a clattering soda can avalanche, Sita soon decided (all on her own!) that the closet wasn’t really all that appealing after all.
Cat traps like this can work in almost any situation. Have a kitty who won’t stop jumping on your bookshelves, countertops, or other off-limits surface? Balance a few magazines along the sides, creating a “false edge” that collapses when your cat attempts to jump on top of it. If she isn’t easily discouraged, add a few noisy objects (like empty soda cans or bells) that will startle her when they clatter to the floor.
Or if your little prodigy won’t stop scratching your couch, (or just refrains from doing so in your presence), it’s time to lay another cat trap. Apply a few strips of double-sided tape to the arms and corners of your furniture. Cats hate sticky sensations on their paws, and will soon learn to avoid those surfaces.
After a few unpleasant experiences, kitty will decide that the countertops/your couch weren’t all that much fun to begin with. She’s got better things to do; she’s a very busy cat, after all. Feel free to phase out your booby traps once kitty has settled into a life of law-abiding catizenship.
Don’t forget the clincher:
Part 2: Redirection
A cat that’s acting out isn’t just choosing to be a dick.
As much as we like to project our own human tendencies onto our cats, they aren’t people. They don’t intend to be vindictive and manipulative—they’re simply expressing a need. When you booby trap your home to eliminate your kitty’s unwanted behavior, it’s vitally important to provide an equally-appealing alternative that meets this need.
Otherwise, they’ll continue expressing it in other ways while you spend your life chasing down one bad feline behavior after another.
When Sita was clambering up our clothes, she was expressing her need to be up high, where she felt safely out of reach. We had ordered a new cat tree that hadn’t been delivered yet, so she was attempting to fulfill this need on her own.
In combination with the soda can trap, the arrival of the cat tree successfully curtailed her closet mountaineering expeditions and redirected it to an appropriate alternative.
If your cat insists on climbing your bookshelves, countertops, or refrigerator, take a look around your home. Are there plenty of cat-friendly vertical spaces available? If so, are they actually appealing? A cat tree stowed in a dark back room isn’t going to be nearly as enticing as one next to a window, or in the corner of your sunny living room. Cats generally just want to be around you, so if you’re not spending all your time in a dark guest bedroom, why should they?
Similarly, if your cats won’t stop scratching your furniture or getting into your pantry, take stock of their environment: is it filled with sufficiently enriching alternatives? An under-stimulated (and clever) cat won’t quietly resign themselves to a life of boredom—they’ll hunt down entertainment in the form of your silk curtains or your Swarovski crystal figurines. Fill your home with plenty of cat-friendly scratching surfaces and puzzle toys to keep your intrepid kitty occupied and happy.
With highly intelligent cats, it’s also incredibly important to stimulate them with plenty of physical exercise: at least 30 minutes of it per day. “Cat-fishing” wand toys are awesome in this department.
Thoughtfulness is Key
Now that you know your kitty isn’t maliciously scheming to drive you crazy, it’ll be easier to understand and address her destructive behavior. If she bats your face or howls to wake you up in the morning, think about the root of her behavior and how to redirect it.
With clever cats, it’s easy to accidentally fall victim to their “manipulation,” which is really just us humans training them into repeating behaviors that worked for them in the past.
If you neglect your cat but run to her each time she knocks over a vase, you’re training her to knock stuff over whenever she wants your attention. If you jump up to feed your cat or let her out each time she howls or paws at your face, you’re reinforcing her annoying behavior as a way to get what she wants.
Instead, anticipate your cat’s needs and redirect her behavior with an enriching, cat-friendly environment. Once that’s in place, set your cat traps and steadfastly ignore any unwanted behavior.
Schedule mealtimes twice a day, and try not to stray from your set feeding routine. On weekends when you’re dying for a lie-in, invest in a timed automatic cat feeder. Play with your cat and shower her with affection only when she’s in a calm, relaxed state.
With patience and environmental enrichment (and a whole lot of empty soda cans), you’ll soon have a genius cat who uses her powers for good instead of evil.
Congratulations! You are now smarter than a cat. (And trust me, that is no small accomplishment.)
Flex your cat knowledge further: Find out why your cat goes batshit crazy in the middle of the night.