You can teach no to your cat and consider it positive reinforcement. We can train our cats using Operant Conditioning. Our cats can learn in 4 different ways using this method:
- Positive Reinforcement: A stimulus (treats) is provided contingent on a behavior - Behavior Will Increase
- Negative Reinforcement: A stimulus (removing something bad, like a closed door) is provided contingent on a behavior - Behavior Will Increase
- Positive Punishment: A stimulus (spraying water) is provided contingent on a behavior (munching on your plants) - Behavior Will Decrease
- Negative Punishment: A stimulus is removed (removing food) contingent on behavior (not waiting for food to be served) - Behavior Will Decrease
A chart will make this a little easier to understand:
Should We Use The Word "NO" To Train or Cats?
There is no punishment with no, we are going to reward our cats for stopping the behavior they are doing but not punish them for doing something we don’t want to. I do use “NO” with my cat Mia and I believe it’s extremely useful, but a lot of other trainers believe that if you tell your cat “no” it can go against your bond and you should focus on the behaviors you want to see repeated instead.
There is some validity in this reasoning. If you overuse “no” or you do it from a frustrated mindset you are most likely going to instill that frustration on your cat as well. Especially with cats that have created negative associations with the word no, using it might make our cats shut down or get stressed. If that’s the case, maybe you should focus on reinforcing behaviors you want to be repeated instead.
If your cat is on the counter or about to jump on the counter, you can say “no” or you can say “floor” for instance. Both commands intend to prevent the cat from jumping on the counter.
So why are you using “no” for your cat? I believe that using no to discourage our cats from doing something or to tell them that what they are doing is something that it’s not going to get rewarded for can be very useful plus it’s very versatile. It’s easier to teach them “no” than to anticipate all the things they can do that we don’t want them to do and find an alternative that is going to get rewarded. No should never mean to our cats, “bad cat”, “never do that”. No should only serve to communicate to our cat that “no” that’s not the behavior I’m looking for right now, stop doing what you are doing, and let’s try something else.
Teaching your cat how to not do things is probably what I get answered the most. How do I stop my cat from waking me up at night? How do I stop my cat from jumping on the counter? How do I stop my cat from eating my plants… You can find a series of tutorials teaching you how to prevent your cat from doing things you don’t want them to do. Also, consider Subscribing to the channel to not miss any new videos!
At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong in teaching your cat the word no if they don’t have a negative association with it and there’s nothing wrong with choosing to avoid the word no either. But today, I’m going to help you teach the word no to your cat. Let’s get into it!
How to Teach "NO" to Your Cat
When I’m teaching my cat Mia any trick I like to teach it with a bunch of different games. These games are a seamless way to, little by little, build up towards the command I’m trying to teach. At the end of the post, I’ll give you a couple of extra tips so that these exercises are a success!
To teach “no” I’m going to do 3 little games:
- Charging the word “no” with the lack of reward
- Teaching that “no” means stop doing something
- Practicing “no” in context
If you were paying attention at the beginning of this post, charging the word "NO" is a form of Negative Punishment, which is the opposite of Clicker Training, which is a form of Positive Reinforcement. (Removing a GOOD stimulus, contingent on behavior we want to reduce).
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Exercise 1: Charging the word “NO”
For this exercise put some kibble on your hand. Open that hand and place it near your cat, where they can see it and smell it. Don't move your hand around, try to keep your hand still.
Your cat has now 2 options:
- Steal the kibble from your hand
- Wait for you to give it to them
We want to reward them for having self-control and not trying to steal food from our hands. We are going to use negative punishment by removing a stimulus (access to food) conditioned to them moving to your hand (behaviothe r we want to stop)
If they decide to go for it, we are going to say “no” and close the hand, removing the possibility of reaching that food. Once they back off a little, we are going to open the hand again and repeat until we can leave the hand open without them trying to reach out for the food.
When that happens, we click, then reward. (Positive Reinforcement)
You will need to repeat this process several times, like 10 to 20, until your cat understands that moving is not going to get them what you have in your hand. At that point, the "NO" is charged.
Exercise 2: Understanding the meaning of "NO"Once they show enough self-control (I like waiting until she looks at me and makes eye contact, but you can do it as soon as they don’t try to steal it) we can move to this next step.
Leave some food available for them at reach. When they try to go eat, say the word "NO" and wait for them to stop. If they don't stop, we either remove the food or use a leash to prevent them from eating it. If your cat doesn't know how to walk on a leash, you can learn how to introduce them to leash walking in this post.
At some point, your cat is going to learn that when they are doing something, the word "NO" will reward them if they stop doing what they are doing.
Exercise 3: Using the word "NO" in context
For this exercise we are going to place the food somewhere around the room, somewhere you don't want them to be, like on the counter or the kitchen table. We are going to put the leash on and walk with them around.
When they see or smell the food they are going to try to reach it. We say “NO”.
If they still try to get to the food, we are going to pull the leash, preventing them to get it.
When they stop pulling, and the leash is not tense anymore, we click, then reward (from our hand, not the one on the counter/table). We are telling them, to stop doing what they are doing and pay attention to me.
Practice these exercises until you don’t need to pull the food away from them or use the leash.
Let your cat understand what the right choices are and how those choices, get rewarded.
The whole objective of the “no” is to stop behaviors before they even happen. Try to anticipate the actions that your cat is about to do and when they stop, reward them generously.
When you are training your cat to understand “NO” it’s very important that the rewards you are using are of higher value than the competing stimuli that you are using as a distraction.
Try to practice first in a controlled environment. If you practice this for the first time at the park or on a hike, all the competing stimuli are going to be too strong for you to lure your cat’s attention to your training.
If you are a plant lover, check out this video with 5 useful tips to stop your cat from chomping on your plants:
Stay Wild, Stay Safe, See You Outdoors!
Albert & Mia