How to Socialize a Scaredy-Cat

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains how to train a shy cat to enjoy your affection.

Q: One of my nine cats likes to be near me, but if I try to pet her, she runs away. Bitty is about 1 year old and has never been hurt in any way. She was born under my bed. I love her and talk to her to reassure her. If I start to touch her side or tail, she will let me, but if I try to touch where she can see my hand coming at her, she gets scared and runs.  What can I do so that she won’t act like I’m a monster going to eat her? She is the smallest in a litter of four (one other girl and two boys). None of the others act like she does. They all like to sit on me and let me pet them and purr.

A: The best way to help your little scaredy-cat feel more confident and act friendlier is to first confine her in one room where there are no other distractions. There should be a food station, water, toys and comfortable sleeping accommodations in her confinement room. This will be Bitty’s safety room, a sanctuary where she can feel safe and not distracted or threatened by the other cats.

It is important for Bitty to see you as the provider of everything good. Instead of leaving her food out all day, feed her multiple meals throughout the day. Spend lots of time with her, sitting, reading and singing to her. Every time you go into her room, toss her a yummy treat. It is important that you don’t chase her or force her to interact with you. Let her come up to you. Bitty has her own socialization schedule, and it is different from yours! Soon, Bitty will start to relax and approach you. A good way to greet her is to get down to her level and extend one finger toward her. After she greets you by approaching your finger, smelling and then rubbing her cheek on your finger, pet her gently on the side of her head.

Acclimate her to your touch by rewarding her with praise and a tiny treat every time she allows you to pet her. Gradually, you should be able to extend the times and the strokes as she starts to relate the treats with being gently stroked. Clicker training is a very effective technique for helping kitties get over their jitters. Watch for my upcoming video on clicker training on CatChannel next month. An article about clicker training also will be featured in the March 2008 issue of CAT FANCY magazine.

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