Whenever a living being has been trained, punishment to kill bad behavior patterns or bratty subjects has been a tradition to empower the caregiver/master/trainer/dom/etc. in question and make their subject submit and learn with greater ease.
Of course, training a kitten also requires punishment. Not all kittens are “certified good kittens”, some are bratty and test their boundaries a lot, others are generally not interested in listening and some are wild and need to be tamed first. Every kitten has their own character.
Punishment can and will also be a bonding experience. Keep that in mind. This happens due to the simple fact, that punishment requires trust and goes against the individuals boundaries. Some kitten may like to be testy and provoke certain punishments over and over again, some may learn and want to avoid them. Having to punish a kitten if it stays testy is not necessarily bad. View it as part of your play, but make sure both do always consent to the current situation!
As such, the training partner of the kitten and the feline in question need to heed 3 important rules before incorporating a punishment system:
1. Talk about the punishments you consider. Make sure they can be combined with the individual kittens health, and talk about the kittens and trainers soft limits* and hard limits**.
Make sure both parties know about the mental state of each other. Is there anything that could potentially trigger any lingering mental pitfalls? Have an open talk, get to know each other. Punishment requires trust, and trust often requires knowledge.
2. Think up a safeword, one from each side. The safeword should be a word that you can say soundly, even if you put a finger sideways in your mouth. It also must be a word, that you would not normally use in this situation and it is a plus, if it is also mentally tight to something you consider strenght.
Tell your partner your safeword and know theirs. Make sure you remember it. You can always start a play with telling each other your respective safewords to make sure, the memory is still fresh while playing.
If a punishment (or a play) feels like it will go into a wrong direction, use this safeword to immediately end the current play. This is a full stop. If a safeword is used, a direct full check of both partners is needed. Is everyone fine? What happened? Talk about the situation and learn to handle it.
3. Make sure you have prepared the things needed for several punishments. Are they well kept? Clean? Fresh? Remember that your kitten has a human body, don’t use things not meant for a human body on it, even if it may fit the pet theme. Don’t use pet shampoo for example, but you can prepare a fully cleaned out bottle of pet shampoo and put normal shampoo according to what your kitten usually uses into the bottle. Also double check, that there are no broken parts or expired parts within your “punishment set”.
When both parties agree, that “nothing can go wrong”, you should be suitably prepared for punishment.
Remember always: Things may change. Have a talk, whenever you felt something changed. There are no bad times for this. Speak up!
How to punish:
1. Water spray
An easy punishment for felines on small missteps. Use a spray bottle with cold water and spray the kitten on each misstep without warning. Make sure you don’t condition a reaction of fear in other situations then training, since this is also a fun way to cool your kitten down on a hot day. Simply make sure it happens directly after the misstep, that the water is ice cold and that the kitten is hit with it as a surprise. Combine it with a strong voiced “No”-type of command and redo the part where the kitten went wrong immediately afterwards. Remember to praise your kitten, if it listened.
2. Stay, hold
The kitten has to sit away in a given position from their toys for a while and should not move for a minute up to maximum 3 minutes. It can either make it wear a ball gag, if the kitten accepts it, or make it hold a small toy or small light object in their mouth the entire time and command it harsh to pick it up again, if it drops it. Time where the toy has been dropped does not count towards the punishment time. Remember to make the kitten do the same task afterwards again and praise it, if it did it right.
Some kittens need a hard hand in being trained. “Slap” is a used like “water spray”, but in this case, you either slap your kitten on the butt (make sure you practice correct slapping beforehand!) or use a short soft whip*** to slap it on the butt. Make sure you only slap your kitten in safe slapping places, like the buttocks, the upper back (never the middle of the back/kidneys!), outer legs or upper arms. Remember to make the kitten do the same task afterwards again and praise it, if it did it right.
A little harsher variation of the “Stay, hold” punishment, is kneeling. (This might be highly uncomfortable for kittens with thicc legs, so plan your time for the punishment accordingly. 30 seconds to maximum 3 minutes again!)
A soft variation could be kneeling on a bare hard floor. This can be hardened by spreading rice on the floor, put a towel on it and let the kitten kneel on the towel above the rice. The rice version will be painful with time. Make sure to never let the kitten kneel into rice directly. Remember to make the kitten do the same task afterwards again and praise it, if it did it right.
Your kitten repeatedly fails to do something? Take away their favorite toy, blanket, game, stuffie or any other thing they like. Make sure, you immediately follow up with an explanation why you do it and ask the kitten to repeat a sentence “I understand that X is bad and I will listen and do X right now.” for example if your kitten is allowed to speak during play. If not, make it nod and understand and then repeat the task immediately and make sure they get their thing back as soon as they did it. End it with praise.
Felines don’t like water, right? Well, some do, but being bathed instead of doing the cleaning alone, another one does it. It’s a highly embarrassing situation. Make sure to brush the kitten off and keep in mind that you handle some parts with more care. However, you can be rough around the upper back, the butt, the outer legs and upper arms of a healthy kitten while scrubbing it. Remember to make the kitten do the same task afterwards at the start of the next training again and praise it, if it did it right.
After a punishment, make sure the kitten has learned it’s lesson by questioning it with one specific yes or now question and have it answer with a yes to fully conclude the punishment.
Use positive reinforcement now. Pet the kitten, cuddle it a bit, tell it how happy you are that it understood. Then, try to go on with the training and make sure you include the part that needed punishment again. Always work with positive reinforcement after a punishment, but punish again if the kitten still needs to test their boundaries. Did the kitten do their job now? Praise it! Is the kitten still a little brat? Punish it again.
Punishments may vary. Make sure to use a punishment that fits the situation. Do not over-punish. A little testy misstep only requires a small punishment according to it. Sometimes, only a reminder in a strong voice is needed. “No words!” or “Use your paws!” are commandos that may need to be reinforced at times. Always keep a close eye on your partner.
Make sure, the kitten gets it’s aftercare afterwards. Different types of punishment might need a small checkup, some sorries, some hugs, love, a blanket… this is the moment the kitten needs to be pampered a little. A trainer needs to pay a close eye on the reactions and mental state of a kitten. Is it fine, except for the lingering feeling it has done something worth punishment?
The kitten has to understand, why it has been punished. Observe it, to be sure it did and that it didn’t get hurt on a personal level instead. According to the observation, sometimes only a pat on the head might suffice, wherein sometimes a full on care-course needs to be put in place for the according aftercare. This varies from kitten to kitten.
Recheck your supplies, clean up and plan your next play or training!
*Soft limits are parts where someone highly hesitates on and thus places conditions on the fact happening. If informed, one might still consent to the soft limited activity, but this should be handled as a very delicate thing. Be cautious around soft limits. If a partner allows a thing that is a soft limit, it’s a thing requiring a lot of trust and safety. Not accepting and valuing soft limits can lead to hard limits, hurt, lost trust or even deeper emotional scars. Make sure to talk about soft limits, their conditions and how the partner setting the soft limit feels about the act included.
**Hard limits are things that can be counted as forbidden. Violating a hard limit can cause the ending of a play or even a relationship, leaves usually deep scars, hurts your trust and is the biggest no-no ever occurring.
***Soft whips are characterized by having a soft light whipping patch at the end of the whip and by being highly bendable. They are made to sound big, but not hurt as big. If you are unsure about a whip, use it on yourself first. Slap your leg at the outside, or your arm and feel how the whip will feel in action. This way, you’ll also be able to learn how to use it safely.