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Gazette Premium Content Myth vs. Truth: How to train your kitten

By Sara Ferguson, Happy Cats Haven - Published: April 15, 2014

Kittens are lovable, fun and easy to care for, right? Not always!

You can turn your sweet, purring baby into a frightened scaredy-cat with just a few wrong moves in a matter of weeks. The good news is you can make sure your kittens remain loving, confident companions with a few simple techniques.

MYTH: Kittens should be adopted alone and as young as possible so they'll bond with their humans.

Kittens taken by themselves from their mothers and littermates before 8-12 weeks old might be very lonely during the workday, which can lead to illness, depression or unwanted behavior. They also might not learn to be gentle or respectful with other animals.

TRUTH: Kittens grow up more confident, have better play skills and entertain themselves better if adopted in pairs. It's also illegal to sell a kitten under 8 weeks old (under 2 pounds) in Colorado.

MYTH: New kittens can go right into the middle of your household; they will adapt to the noise and activity.

A kitten that is overwhelmed by a new environment might become fearful, shut down or defensive. A kitten's hearing is 30 percent more sensitive than that of puppies, so a single loud noise can do a lot of damage.

TRUTH: Create adaptable, confident kittens by introducing new sounds, sights and smells very gradually. Give them a safe place to start out but gently introduce them to people and other animals when they are ready. An occupied kitten is a happy, well-behaved kitten.

MYTH: If kittens do something wrong, they are being spiteful and must be punished.

Kittens are very sensitive little beings with simple emotions, and even a harsh word can make some of them very afraid of people.

TRUTH: Instead, use positive training and redirection to set them up for success. All cats love to be told when they do things right with a simple, "Good kitty!"

MYTH: Kittens love to play with hands.

Yes they do! However, this teaches your kitten that hands (and possibly feet) are for attacking, which might be cute when they are tiny, but sets them up for aggression as adults.

TRUTH: Using cat toys will keep playtime fresh every day, teach them to be gentle, and save your fingers!

MYTH: Kittens are like stuffed animals - you can do anything with them.

If you repeatedly make your kittens cower, run, freeze, duck or stop playing, they might end up shutting down and becoming unresponsive or always hiding: the classic scaredy-cat.

TRUTH: A kitten that enjoys your touch will lean into your hand and reward you with a purr.

MYTH: Kittens can entertain themselves so you don't have to.

Kittens not handled regularly might grow into cats who dislike petting or lap time. Kittens that are never played with become cats who don't know how to play.

TRUTH: The more you handle and play with your kittens in ways they enjoy, the more likely they will grow into affectionate, playful cats.

MYTH: Kittens know what is good or bad for them.

Since insects are one of a cat's primary foods, kittens are masters at finding small things to chew on that might be bad for them or even kill them, like cords, plastic, rubber bands, toys and toxic plants.

TRUTH: Think like a kitten to find and hide things they could chew on, especially if they're movable.

MYTH: Annoying behaviors will probably just go away.

Jumping on the counter, scratching the furniture or going outside the box can quickly become habits.

TRUTH: You can use positive training techniques to teach them alternative behaviors right away and redirect from behaviors you dislike.

MYTH: Cats hate having their nails trimmed or their coats brushed.

If you hurt your kittens with bad brushing or nail trimming techniques, they will be difficult to groom.

TRUTH: Good grooming and handling starts when cats are kittens. You can use positive reinforcement techniques to make nail trimming and coat brushing something your kittens (and cats) look forward to, instead of something that feels like a punishment. This will help you avoid the stress of having to go to a groomer or veterinarian for this.

MYTH: All cats hate to go to the veterinarian.

For many cats, all it takes is one bad experience at the vet to be fearful for the rest of their lives.

TRUTH: Let the carrier become just another nest and feed your kitten treats while inside so it becomes a positive place to be at home before you travel. Make sure your vet offers a place to wait that is away from dogs who might scare your kitten. Also, choose a vet who knows proper low-stress feline handling techniques so as not to unnecessarily frighten your kitten during the examination.

MYTH: It's normal for kittens to sleep all day and play all night.

Unless you work nights, this sets them up for you to be upset when those nocturnal feline rhythms kick in.

TRUTH: It's best to play with your kittens during the day and right before bed to wear them out so they'll want to sleep when you do.

MYTH: Cats don't learn their names or come when called, so don't bother using them.

The only reason kittens don't learn a name is that you are not using it when interacting.

TRUTH: All cats can be taught to come when their names are called by using the word consistently in positive situations, like during petting or when giving out treats. Cats that come when called are more likely to survive an emergency situation, like a fire evacuation.

Join us for a Kitty Kindergarten class!

Hosted by Happy Cats Haven and the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, the next Kitty Kindergarten will be from 6-7:30 p.m. on May 6 at HSPPR, located at 610 Abbot Lane. Kitty Kindergarten will be held monthly throughout the summer.

Bring your kitten and your family to our class to learn the 12 best ways NOT to ruin your kitten. Kittens learn best under five months old, so the clock is ticking. We can help your kitten grow up to be your best feline friend ever! Please call 635-5000 to sign up or visit HappyCatsHaven.org for more details.

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