Training works best if the sessions are fairly short at frequent intervals, the cat is free from other distractions, the reward given is of high value to the cat and the behaviour that is being taught has not been associated with something negative in the past.
How cats learn
Your kitten’s basic education takes place during the period from birth to 6 months through the mother’s dominant role and interaction with siblings. A kitten starts by imitating its mother’s actions, and then learns by itself, through experimenting. Therefore your contribution to the foundations of your kitten’s education is limited but you still have responsibilities to complete their socialisation in the context of a new environment.
The mother cat’s role
It’s recommended to wait until your kitten is at least two months old before separating them from their mother and siblings. Mother cats play a vital role in their kittens’ upbringing, teaching them hygiene and social habits by example and through play, as well as feeding them, keeping them in check, comforting and protecting them.
Your kitten is also influenced by the environment that you introduce. A kitten that’s been in contact with different people and animals from a very early age will be a more well-rounded and inquisitive cat.
The principles of training your kitten
Though your kitten will start by imitating their mother, they will then go on to experiment themselves. Part of experimenting is learning the consequences of their actions. Essentially, if they like these consequences they will go on to repeat those actions.
Biting and scratching
The kitten must understand what is permissible and what is not at the earliest opportunity, before their claws and teeth are fully developed. When play-fighting with their siblings, the bites and scratches the kitten receives help them determine how aggressive they can be when using their teeth and claws without causing pain.
Using the litter tray
By around five or six weeks old, your kitten will have learned to use their litter tray, and will often spend a lot of time covering up their excrement. If the kitten does not do this, place them in the litter tray frequently, especially after meals. Take their paws and dig a hole to get them into the habit of covering their excrement. You should only have to repeat this once or twice.
You have limited control when it comes to training your kitten, however, if you work to read their body language, as well as their sounds and facial expressions you’ll grow to understand your kitten's behaviour and be better equipped to ensure their wellbeing.