SFVS animal behaviorist Sophia Yin, DVM, wrote an article on cat training instead of declawing for the May/June 2010 issue of California Veterinarian, a publication of the California Veterinary Medical Association.
The article includes advice for a family whose new kittens are scratching (destroying) furniture. Many of us have been there, thrown our hands up at that. Dr. Yin offers a behavior modification plan to the family as an alternative to declawing. An excerpt describes how to train a kitty to use a scratch post (and not your favorite vintage armchair, ahem):
Training cats to use a scratch post is possible too. First figure out what type of post and material your cat might like. In Dr. Colleran’s article in the last issue of California Veterinarian, she mentioned different types of scratching materials, such as carpet, sisal, cardboard and wood. These can be positioned vertically or horizontally, depending on the cat’s preference. You may be fortunate and select exactly what your cats like to scratch, resulting in very little training time to eliminate the unwanted behavior.
If your cat doesn’t take to the new scratching area right away, you can train the cat to scratch the post. Place catnip or toys on or near the post so he hangs out in that area and even tries to paw them. If he scratches or paws the post, reward within a second with a treat. If he already knows that the sound from a toy clicker means a treat is coming, then you can mark the correct scratching behavior by clicking so that he knows the scratching is good. That buys you a little time to get the treat to him. If the best he will do is paw that post, that’s ﬁne too. Once he understands that pawing earns treats the next step is to reward full scratching.
Download the article: Cat Training Instead of Declawing (PDF)