We recently adopted an adult cat from a shelter and he has started to scratch at our hands. How do we teach him this is not okay?
First of all, try to figure out what causes the cat to scratch at your hands. Some cats do this if you pet them a certain way or if they’re put in certain situations. Cats that get overexcited during petting can sometimes scratch at you due to arousal, so if you notice a certain type of petting causes this, avoid doing it in the future.
Positive reinforcement is the next step. Never yell at the cat or do anything to startle it when he claws at you, as this can increase the cat’s negative response. If the cat claws at you immediately get up and walk away and do not return to the cat until he or she has calmed down. Get a cat toy that is a “wand” – one that has a toy hanging from it by a string or rope. When the cat moves toward your hands to claw, take out the toy and distract the cat, and praise and reward the cat when it plays with the toy. The reward can be a food treat, or verbal praise, or more play with the toys, but avoid tactile praise.
Continue to repeat this procedure until the cat learns that he will not be reinforced for clawing. Don’t leave him alone, but continue reinforcing good behavior, like playing with an appropriate toy. Before long, you’ll nip his clawing in the bud!