How to Teach a Kitten What “No” Means, and to Obey It

Teaching a kitten no takes time and patience. It’s always best to stay calm, firmly say “no,” and remove your kitten from the situation or redirect their behavior.

Punishing cats doesn’t work, and can damage your relationship with your cat. Instead, redirect and then reward their good behavior.

In this article, I’ll give you some examples of common kitten troubles and how to train your kitten out of the unwanted behaviors.


Redirect Unwanted Behavior

Whenever possible, you want to redirect your kitten’s behavior instead of giving them a hard no. This is because your kitten isn’t getting into trouble just to be bad—often, they’re displaying a need or desire that they have.

For example, a kitten swinging from the curtains and scratching them to bits is displaying two instinctual behaviors: their need to scratch, and their need to play.

Telling your kitten no and expecting them to take a nap isn’t going to happen! They have too much energy for that right now.

Instead, make sure your kitten has a scratching post and plenty of toys. This will help you to fulfill both of their needs.

Then, when you see them about to climb your curtains, distract them. Grab a laser pointer and get them running around, and maybe try pointing it at their scratching post to get them scratching it instead of your stuff!

Also ensure you’re playing with your cat for 30-45 minutes a day, broken into 10-15 minute increments. Great times to play are before meals and before bedtime, but anytime your kitten is feeling active will work just fine.

Redirection also works for kittens climbing onto counters, trying to play with an older pet who isn’t in the mood, and many other behaviors.

Give your kitten something more fun to do, and they’ll opt for that option instead.


Gently Remove your Kitten from the Situation

Sometimes, distracting your kitten doesn’t work or they really do just need to be told no. In this case, remove them from the situation as gently as possible while firmly telling them “no.” Eventually, they will learn that some things aren’t allowed.

The best example I can think of here is if your kitten is biting you. Clearly, that cannot be allowed.

In this example, push the cat away if possible or set them on the ground while telling them “no” firmly. Don’t allow them near you for a while so that they get the picture that biting isn’t something you tolerate, and they won’t get time with you if that behavior continues.

If moving your kitten in this case is too much trouble or they continue trying to bite, tell them “no” and then get up yourself, and walk away from them.


Avoid Punishments

It can be tempting sometimes to rant and rave at your kitten for their behavior, to chase them away, or otherwise punish them for their behavior.

The problem is, punishments just don’t work. They only serve to damage your relationship with your cat and, truthfully, they’ll probably continue to behave that way behind your back.

Punishments don’t get to the root of the problem and solve the issue you and your cat are having. They don’t tell your cat what is okay to do.

And, hopefully it doesn’t need to be said, but hitting or otherwise physically punishing your cat is abuse. It won’t work, and it’s not okay.

I’ve also seen advice to shake your cat by the scruff. However, this is useless at best and can hurt your cat at worst. I don’t recommend it at all.


Use Deterrents to Block off Forbidden Areas

Sometimes, you can’t be around to say no every single time your cat does something. Jumping onto the counter is a good example of this.

Once, when my cats were still kittens, I came out to the kitchen at midnight to find all five of them sat on the countertop. They knew they weren’t allowed, and immediately rushed down after seeing me awake!

This shows how important it is to be consistent. Of course, I never stayed up all night to keep them from the counters. Because of this, they learned that being on the counter when I was asleep was okay, because I wasn’t around to stop them.

This is what’s so good about deterrents: they make it less fun for your cat to be in areas you don’t want them in.

For example, I line my plant shelves with double-sided tape. When my cat’s feet get stuck on the tape, they get annoyed and jump down.

Other deterrents include safe smell deterrents such as citrus peels (not essential oils, which can hurt your cat), or motion sensor deterrents that release a puff of air or spray your cat when they come too close.

Deterrents work especially well when paired with fun activities for your cat to do close by. For example, put a scratching post near the sofa you don’t want them scratching or give them a place to hang out in the kitchen, like a cat tree, to use instead of countertops.


Reward Good Behavior

When your cat is being good, even if it’s after you’ve redirected them, be sure to praise them and give them treats.

By fussing over them when they’re good and giving them as little attention as possible when they misbehave, your kitten will learn what you like, and what will get them attention from you.

Over time, you’ll see their behavior shift as they try to please you and earn the treats, praise, and positive attention you provide when they’re doing well.

Clicker training is another way to train your cat positively and reward their good behavior.


Pay Attention to Your Cat

In addition to rewarding your cat for good behavior, you want to pay attention to them when they’re not doing much at all.

The last thing you want is your cat causing trouble because that’s the only time they get any sort of attention from you. For some cats, negative attention is better than no attention at all.

So, be sure to give them lots of love when they’re just being themselves!


Stay Consistent

If you don’t keep up with training, or other family members allow unwanted behavior, your kitten is going to become confused about what is and isn’t okay in your home.

It’s tedious to redirect your kitten from the furniture to their scratching post again and again, but it’s also the only way they’re going to learn.

If it’s important to you that your cat behaves a certain way, you absolutely have to put in the work.

Remember that this training won’t take forever, and will set up your cat’s behaviors for the rest of their life. It’ll be worth it in the end!


Training a Cat “No” Peeing Outside the Litterbox

I’ve given this one its own section as I think using the bathroom outside of the litterbox is typically a different problem than the others I’ve spoken about above, and needs to be addressed differently as well.

If your cat is not using the litterbox, first ensure you’re cleaning it properly and have the right number of litterboxes in your home.

Litterboxes should be scooped daily and cleaned once weekly. Some cats may be fussier than this, though. I once knew a cat who refused to use the box if it smelled at all, even if they’d only used it one single time.

In addition, you should have one litterbox per cat plus one extra. One cat needs two litterboxes, two cats need three, and so on. This is especially important for picky cats, who then have multiple options available if one litterbox is too messy for their tastes.

Once you’re sure cleanliness isn’t a problem, bring your kitten to the veterinarian for a check-up. One of the biggest reasons cats eliminate outside of the litterbox is due to health problems.

Also think about whether any stressors in your home are causing your kitten to not use the litterbox as desired, or if there’s something about the litterbox they don’t like, such as a new litter brand or a covered litterbox that’s difficult to get into or is holding in smells.

Saying “no” or disciplining your cat for going outside the litterbox doesn’t work. Instead, you need to get to the root of the problem and address that.

Once the issue is resolved, clean the areas they’ve urinated on well. If your kitten can still smell themselves, they might return to that spot.


Writer: Katelynn Sobus

I am a freelance writer who specializes in the pet industry.  My full bio