Question: "How can I stop my cat rattling window blinds?"
Yvonne's two-year-old cat Portia (a Somali cross) lives with her sibling, and both kitties spend up to eight hours each day home alone while the humans work full time. "She is a friendly, lovely cat," writes Yvonne, "but she insists on "pinging" the Venetian blinds everywhere in the house, day and night. She knows this drives us crazy and when we can catch her in the act we flick her ear with our fingers to discourage her.
She seems to have learned her lesson until the next time she "pings" the blinds (could be 15 minutes later). She knows she isn't supposed to do this because as soon as she sees us coming, she tries to put her ears back, gently swats at us with her paw, or runs for cover. How can we stop her, besides changing all the window coverings in our home or isolating her in the garage? We have had too many sleepless nights. I know this sounds stupid but this is driving us nuts. Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated."
Ah yes, rattling the window blinds-my Seren did this for the first 18 months, after which I finally trained my HUSBAND to stop rewarding her. A cat's behavior will be repeated in direct proportion to what they get out of it. Let's take a look at Portia's behavior in terms of the H.I.S.S. Test, which stands for health, instinct, stress, and symptom solvers.
I usually recommend a cat be checked by the veterinarian to rule out health issues whenever there is a behavior change.
In Portia's case, I didn't receive information about any recent health checkups.
Cats want to observe their world. The old saying, "A cat is always on the wrong side of the door" is particularly fitting in Portia's case. Venetian blinds block a cat's view of her territory. Moving behind the blinds, or parting them with a paw, could be considered an instinctive behavior for most cats.
While stress is involved in nearly all poor behaviors, in normal behaviors this actually is normal the stress factor which increases when the behavior is thwarted. Of course, the owners' stress level also sky-rockets when Portia's blind-pinging interferes with a good night's sleep.
S=Symptom, Signs & Solutions
This behavior is pretty straightforward, and can easily be fixed. I say that, even though it took Seren many months to stop, and I believe the same situation is happening with Portia.
It's a normal behavior for cats to want to look out the window. The blinds interfere with kitty view. So the smart cat simply walks behind the blinds, or parts them with a paw to see out. However, the racket made by the paw-parting prompts owners to 1) object because of the noise, or 2) for fear the cat will tear down the blinds. So to stop the blind-pinging, the owner jumps up, yells for the cat to stop, and chases the cat away. In Portia's case, her ears also get thumped.
When you objected, Portia realized that not only does she get a great view out the window if she pings the blind, but she also gets ATTENTION! My cat Seren learned to run to a window, rattle, and look over her shoulder for my husband's inevitable response, she knew how to make him play her game of choice (chase the kitty).
He never did appreciate her sense of humor.
Portia has learned the same thing. Cats alone for many hours during the day become hungry for attention, and time their awake time to coincide when owners are there. Even bad attention is better than being ignored, which is why Portia seems willing to put up with the ear-thumping punishment which, by the way, I would urge you to stop. If you don't do it every time, you actually give her intermittent reinforcement that teaches her that she can get away with the behavior. It's not only painful, can eventually result in Portia associating your petting hands with pain, it also DOESN'T WORK! Why keep doing it, when it obviously does not work?
The most difficult part of stopping this behavior is training owners. Cats often use wake-up meows that also drive us nuts, and the same principle applies here.
In order for the behavior to go away, stop rewarding the behavior with attention. In other words, ignore Portia's pinging. My Seren stopped bothering the blinds once I convinced my husband to ignore the behavior. It took months to convince my husband, but only about three weeks to stop Seren's blind rattling once she no longer got attention.
Give Portia legal outlets for this normal behavior. Offer a favorite window that has the blinds open so she doesn't need to paw in order to peek through. Give her BOATLOADS of attention at other times and establish a routine so she can count on that. Wear her out with interactive games before bedtime. Invest in ear plugs so you don't hear the rattling. Shut the bedroom door so she's not nearby at night to make noise.
Be aware that the behavior will get worse, right before it starts to improve. This is called an "extinction burst." If you give in, that simply teaches Portia that the longer she pesters, the better chance she has of getting attention. Be strong and practice "tough kitty love" for a restful night's sleep.