I share my home with three felines, and am continually reminded of the old saying, “Patience is a virtue.” Don’t get me wrong – I adore my cats and love having them in my home. But cats are stubborn creatures that can test the patience of a saint. My cat Rocky decided early on that my wall-to-wall carpet was his own personal, giant-sized scratching post. As you can imagine, that didn’t work for me, and I made it my personal mission to put an end to his carpet scratching ways.
To successfully train your cat to use a scratching post in lieu of your carpet or furniture, you need to first understand why they scratch. Most people believe a cat scratches to sharpen its claws, which is true in that scratching removes the outer portion of the claw to reveal a sharp new tip. But cats also scratch to claim territory and mark their turf, both with visible signs of claw marks and the scent glands on their paws. They also scratch for exercise and stress relief, like a feline version of Yoga or Pilates. Lastly, cats scratch because it’s a natural behavior that feels good.
As you can see, there’s no point in trying to get your cat to stop scratching, because it won’t. Instead, you can re-direct its impulse to scratch to a more appropriate place, aka, the cat scratching post or scratching pad. Nowadays, there’s a large variety of scratching post materials and styles available, from carpet to sisal to corrugated card board. The most important thing you should know is that you might need to try several different kinds before you find the scratching surface your cat prefers.
Also keep in mind that some cats favor vertical scratching surfaces, some prefer horizontal surfaces, and some will use either. My own battle with Rocky’s inappropriate scratching was prolonged because I tried to force him to become a vertical scratcher. Secondly, I thought that getting a carpeted scratching post would discourage him from scratching my carpet. After much trial and error, I realized I was wrong on both counts. He now uses his carpeted scratching post, but only because I turned it sideways so he could scratch horizontally.
There are several tricks you can use when training your cat to use a scratching post. First, resist the urge to put the post in a little-used corner of your home. Your cat wants to mark his territory where he spends most of his time, which isn’t (usually) the bedroom closet or the laundry room. You can gradually move the scratching post to a less visible location once it’s been accepted by your cat as his territory. Ideally, you should set up posts in several different locations, so that when the urge to scratch strikes, there is one handy.
Encourage your cat to check out the scratching post by offering him treats near it. Hold the treat up near the post or put it on the post so that your cat’s paws touch the surface of the post to get the treat. Toys that dangle from a string are another great way to train your cat to use a scratching post. Play with your cat near the post and move the toy around the post so that when it tries to get its toy, it invariably climbs up the post. If your feline loves catnip, sprinkle some liberally all over the surface of the post and it will go bonkers rubbing it, kneading it and eventually, scratching it.
Training your cat to use a scratching post takes time, patience and perseverance. Keep in mind that cats are creatures of habit. Use that to your advantage by taking them over to their post when you get up in the morning, and whenever you come home from being away. I did that consistently for several months, and now all my cats run to their scratching posts at those times, usually without my urging. Yes, even my notorious carpet scratcher uses his post multiple times every day – which is something of a minor miracle!