How To Stop A Cat From Biting And Scratching Your Hand For Treats

Do you have a cat that bites or scratches your hand when you are training?

A persistent cat's sharp claws and teeth can quickly ruin the fun in a training session.

The first thing you need to know is that grabby cats are highly motivated to work and this is a good thing!

The training agreement you create with your cat goes like this: "Do behaviour X, and THEN you get your treat."

Knowing these rules, a food-motivated cat will quickly do what you've asked. "Fine, I did that, now GIMME my treat!" A cat that's less food motivated might walk away. "Sorry, the terms of this agreement are not up to my standards."

Ask someone to do a job when they think they deserve more money and chances are they will quit. A food-motivated cat is highly satisfied with their paycheque and eager to show up for work.

So how does a new cat trainer keep their fingers free from scratches and bites?

My top five tips for working with a grabby cat:

1. Experiment with lower valued food
Have you ever had trouble concentrating when your favourite food is on the table? Sometimes good food can be very distracting. When people first start training they may think they need to use the best treats. Ideally, we want to use the lowest valued foods to teach the basics, and reserve the best treats for the challenging training tasks, like nail trims. Experiment with different foods for different jobs and find something that brings out your cat's best behaviour.

2. Use props
Using props is an excellent strategy to take the focus away from your hands. Working with a target stick can help teach your cat how clicker training works while preserving your fingers. Click for touching the target stick and place the treat on the floor or toss it away from you. My fist bump tutorial is an excellent beginner exercise because your cat learns to target a container (not your hand).

3. Treats don't come from the hand that cues them
Teach the cat that the treat doesn't come from the hand that presents the cues. Let's consider what happens when you teach your cat to target your finger. Initially, you may have a treat in your hand to lure (guide) them. Click, before the cat makes contact with your finger and surprise them with a treat that comes from your OTHER hand. "What – there are treats in both hands now?!" This exercise will teach your cat that treats come from where they least expect it and encourage them to work even when they don't see a treat.

4. Do distance work
The Go To A Bed or Mat tutorial turns the focus away from your fingers to an object. The Teach Your Cat to Perch tutorial uses the same principle. The cat learns that contact with the object (not you) is what will earn them a reward.

5. Click for the absence of grabbing
A clicker is a precise tool that allows you to reinforce your cat for the absence of bad behaviour. In this video, I am doing a simple impulse control exercise. I place a treat on my hand and present my hand up high out of Jones' reach. As I lower my hand, I click Jones for stillness. Using the clicker, I communicate to Jones that even when there is a treat on my hand, the Sit behaviour is what will earn him the reward. I hope you can see what a powerful device the clicker is in helping your cat learn that patience not pushiness is how they win treats.

As you work through these exercises, avoid getting frustrated with your cat. Remember it's your job to teach them the rules of this clicker training game. Every cat can learn to be a polite and gentle training partner.

Need more help with your grabby cat? Join Cat School's online membership to start training right meow. Immediately enter the online classroom and start working with your cat. In the interactive class, you can ask questions and even get feedback on your training. Join our community of cat lovers and become a #catschoolstudent

The Cat School Membership
The Cat School Membership

The Cat School Membership

$25.00 USD

Purchase a subscription to Cat School to access online courses, community, and one-on-one support. Hosted via Mighty Networks, you can work at your own pace to teach your cat various skills, solve problem behaviours, and help them wear a harness and walk on leash, among many more! 

This is a subscription item that renews monthly from date of purchase. No contracts or obligations, we are here to see your cat succeed!

View Details

What Do I Get Out Of Cat School Membership? 

As a student, you'll get a few great benefits from membership:

Access exclusive content. Courses range from finding a food your cat will work for, to leash walking, to trimming nails, to teaching tricks. We've designed all of our courses to inspire, instruct, and engage.

Meet new people.Your fellow students are as motivated as you are to master what we're exploring in Cat School.

Get results. As you dive into the course content and meet the community in Cat School, you're on a path of mastery. While it's not necessarily easy, the transformation we'll get together matters.

More questions? See the FAQs below:

Related Posts

How Do You Train A Cat?

May 04, 2021 Julie Posluns

Is your cat ready for school?

Mar 30, 2021 Julie Posluns