Is it too late to train good behaviour in a mean cat?

mugginskate

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My parents have had a cat since her birth and is now 15 years old. She is a female calico short hair. I grew up with this cat and she displays mean behaviour to all family members. People are scared to walk by her in case she swipes or bites them. No one will pick her up because that could get you a bite. She occasionally desires affection when she wants food or water. She will sit on your lap but petting her can be dangerous as she is unpredictable. Doing some research I've come to discover that she received a lot of negative reinforcement growing up. My family just wasn't well researched enough to know that this doesn't work with cats. Is it too late to help her develop better behaviour?
 

Jem

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Do you now have this cat on your own, or does she (and you) still live with your family?
I'm always optimistic that any kitty can feel better about their home. But it's not a matter of "training the cat" to have "good behavior". It's about teaching your cat that she is safe a secure, and a matter of building confidence in her so she is not fearful of her environment. Most "bad behavior" in a cat stems from fear. And no, I'm not suggesting that your cat was abused or neglected which is why she is "fearful", but cats are sensitive to their surroundings. Those who mistakenly try to "train" a cat using the same type of techniques as you would a dog, inadvertently causes mistrust and fear. Negative association / dominance just doesn't work for a cat in most situations, as you already found out.
She may never be a cuddle bug that can be manhandled with hugs and kisses and belly rubs, but I would imagine that she could probably learn to feel more secure so that the ambush attacks lessen and petting "on her terms" are more welcomed. You just have to learn to read cat body language and don't push her boundaries, as well as create a cat friendly environment. Creating a strict routine for her would probably help also.
 

susanm9006

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I think at her age you aren’t going to change her behavior. But you can always try some positive reinforcement like offering her a treat when she lets you get close . You could try it by sitting down on the floor somewhere close and setting out the treat and then on successive days setting it a little closer to you if she doesn’t get angry. If you can get her to take a treat very near you then you can try it standing up. Hopefully she will pick up that if she doesn’t lash out she gets a treat from a nearby human.
 
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mugginskate

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Do you now have this cat on your own, or does she (and you) still live with your family?
I'm always optimistic that any kitty can feel better about their home. But it's not a matter of "training the cat" to have "good behavior". It's about teaching your cat that she is safe a secure, and a matter of building confidence in her so she is not fearful of her environment. Most "bad behavior" in a cat stems from fear. And no, I'm not suggesting that your cat was abused or neglected which is why she is "fearful", but cats are sensitive to their surroundings. Those who mistakenly try to "train" a cat using the same type of techniques as you would a dog, inadvertently causes mistrust and fear. Negative association / dominance just doesn't work for a cat in most situations, as you already found out.
She may never be a cuddle bug that can be manhandled with hugs and kisses and belly rubs, but I would imagine that she could probably learn to feel more secure so that the ambush attacks lessen and petting "on her terms" are more welcomed. You just have to learn to read cat body language and don't push her boundaries, as well as create a cat friendly environment. Creating a strict routine for her would probably help also.
She lives with my parents and my brother and sister who are still at home. My husband and I moved into the basement apartment about a year ago so we see her on a regular basis. Everyone else seems ready to give up on her, but I still adore her.
 
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mugginskate

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I think at her age you aren’t going to change her behavior. But you can always try some positive reinforcement like offering her a treat when she lets you get close . You could try it by sitting down on the floor somewhere close and setting out the treat and then on successive days setting it a little closer to you if she doesn’t get angry. If you can get her to take a treat very near you then you can try it standing up. Hopefully she will pick up that if she doesn’t lash out she gets a treat from a nearby human.
Thanks, I'll give that a try!
 

ArtNJ

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Maybe your folks made some mistakes, maybe they didn't. My brother and his partner are great people. And they had a cat that was mean its whole life. Maybe they made mistakes and could have done better, but I think that sometimes, some cats are just really really hard to socialize properly. After all, why should it be any different for cats then people? And some people are just born broken, sociopaths, psychopaths and schizophrenics with great parents. So yeah, read up and if the family ever gets another cat, use best practices, but don't be too hard on your folks or assume that its possible to fix the cat. I agree that at 15, big changes are unlikely.
 

hexiesfriend

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I adopted a little meanie,when I found her she had been in a bad fight and part of her tail was so bad it eventually had to be amputated. Cats like yours and mine are meanies out of fear. While there may have been negative enforcement she still fearful. My meanie cat is not affectionate but can be if she is in a dominant position, physically from me. So get down on the floor laying on your back if she’s on the floor or greet her while she’s up in a cat tree or up higher than you. If she feels physically dominant some of the fear may go away.
 

Elphaba09

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As hexiesfriend hexiesfriend said, meanie cats tend to be mean out of fear. Another reason is that she might be in pain.

Is this behavior new, or has she always been mean? Is she declawed? Has she been hurt or scared in the bast? When was she last at the vet? To go along with Jem Jem 's comment, how do they deal with her behavior? Lots of people use squirt bottles with cats. Did they do something like that? Or other forms of "punishment" training? Not saying that people who do this know that they are harming their cats when they do it, it can make a cat mean and resentful our of fear and distrust.
 
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