Are cats trainable?
To train your new kitten, you need an understanding of how they think and behave.
That said, with a bit of understanding and patience, there's no reason why you can't train your kitten. And it's important that you do. After all, how will you groom your kitten or keep a close eye on their health if you don't train your kitten to be handled?
The basic principles
The first thing to realise is that cats do not understand punishment, encouraging good behaviour is much more effective. Sound tricky? Just remember the three 'R's' - respect, reinforcement and rewards.
Let's take respect. It's important that you behave in a 'cat friendly' manner. Did you know, for example, that cats dislike being stared at, or that they can't abide sudden noises or movements?
Reinforcement just means consistency and repetition. If your kitten does something you wish to discourage (like jumping on the kitchen counters), always gently and firmly say no. When they are doing something you want to encourage, be sure to always make a big fuss.
Which brings us neatly onto rewards. There are two types of rewards - praise from you and a tasty treat. Both are very motivating to your kitten.
Training your kitten to be handled
Most cats don't like being picked up, and the earlier you get your kitten used to it the better.
A lot of people unwittingly teach their kitten bad habits. They pick their kitten up, kitten struggles and they immediately put them down again. Thus, the kitten learns that by struggling they get their own way.
A better approach is to pick your kitten up and then, if they struggle, continue to hold gently but firmly. Once settled lavish lots of praise and set them down.
Can you train your kitten not to scratch? No. Kittens love to scratch - it's a natural form of territorial marking that also gives the muscles a good stretch. Does this mean you have to accept ruined furniture? No. You just have to train your kitten to redirect the scratching.
Buy your kitten a scratching post (rough surfaces are particularly appealing so you might want to choose one covered with something like rope). Play with your kitten near the scratching post and then, when your kitten uses it, reward with praise and maybe a treat.
By scratching an item of furniture your kitten is marking it with their scent. Cleaning it with an anti-odour product may discourage them from going back there. Some people find putting something like polythene on the item of furniture helpful as kittens generally aren't so keen to scratch slippery surfaces.
Play biting is natural kitten behaviour. If your kitten bites your hand during play, end the session immediately. Whatever you do, don't jerk your hand away. This just makes the game even more fun! Toys and balls are safer objects of prey.
Clicker training is a modern, kind and scientific way of training animals. You use all the same principles already discussed but your kitten also gets a 'click' to mark any good behaviour. More information on clicker training.