NORMAN — Dear Dr. Fox: When my three littermate kittens turned adult back in 1998, one developed a urinary tract infection — I believe from one of the controlling littermates not allowing him to use the litter box.
I read your column about using a squirt gun around that time, and I tried it on the aggressive cat. It worked for a while, but then he got used to it and put up with getting soaked. Nobody got hurt, and he finally quit doing it.
Years later, the third littermate would come to the kitchen and get under my feet all the time. I would put him back in the living room, sometimes forcefully, but he would keep coming back in the kitchen. He would not mind me; he had a mind all his own.
Once he made up his mind to do something, he wouldn’t quit unless I got mad. Finally, I tried showing him the broom. This was scary to him, and he finally quit coming in.
— D.L., Maryland Heights, Md.
Dear D.L.: Your observations on training your cat may be helpful to other people who are learning the ropes with their felines when it comes to inhibiting unwanted behaviors. Pain from slapping is unacceptable, and acute discomfort with a spray of water can become habituated to, as you found out with your cat.
But hold on. The cat getting “under (your) feet” may be showing affection or really hungry, so keep your cool. In many instances, as when your cats are playing too rough, a loud yell followed by a handclap or tossing a towel over them will break up a spat. You are distracting them by triggering the startle response.
I do not intervene until one of our cats gives a distress scream or is cornered and assuming a defensive posture.