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dominant cat problems

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
Our three-year-old neutered boy, Marlon, has decided that he is king of the household. He and our other cat have worked this out between them, so that isn't a problem. What is an issue is that he is continually trying to assert his dominance over us.

He's constantly underfoot whenever he wants something, trying to steer us in one direction or another. Once he's decided it's dinner time he'll meow endlessly and charge our legs any time we stand up. We try not to give in to any of this. We don't want him to learn that bad behavior gets results. The biggest problem, though, is that he wakes us up every single morning. For a while it was fairly reasonable. He'd start in just a little while before my alarm, I'd lock him out of the room, and then when my alarm went off I'd get up and feed him.

We're always careful not to just give in to his whims. We know that consistency is vital, and we've always heard that after enough time cats with learn when they're fighting a losing battle.

Not Marlon. He now wakes me up sometimes two hours before my alarm (like 5am), and he's developed all sorts of tricks to get my attention. Instead of just whining or jumping on the bed, he starts knocking things of the dresser. Alarm clocks, my phone, glasses of water. Still, we're firm with him. If we can't ignore him one of us we'll lock him in another room and get back in bed until the alarm goes off. It hasn't discouraged him in the least. It's been over a year.

And unfortunately, I have a really hard time going to sleep. So right now it's 6am and I don't think I'll get any more rest tonight. We don't know what to do. We can't free-feed, because our other cat will gorge. And we've tried to avoid squirt guns, because we don't like the idea of negative reinforcement. This cat just doesn't seem capable or learning, though. The other has picked up on the rules without a problem, but not Marlon.

I'm constantly tired at work because I'm averaging at least an hour of sleep less than I need. We really don't know what to do. Aside from the waking us up issue, there are other behavior problems as well, and Marlon just doesn't seem to learn.

Any ideas?
post #2 of 12
It sounds like Marlon is a very smart cat. It's always the smart ones that are tricky!

Have you tried an auto feeder for Marlon? There are models that dispense to two dishes so both cats could get their breakfast from the feeder and not you. I have a cat with similar behaviors and for him we use a treat ball (little ball with hole that dispenses treats when they roll it) as a distraction when he's really adamant. In our case, Hemmy will spray to defend his territory from the other cats if he gets too worked up over food so we've found the treat ball an excellent deterrent. You might keep one handy.

When cats exhibit behaviors that you don't like the most effective means of dissuading them is to distract them with something else. Most cats (and I find this true with cats who are intelligent in particular) do not stop doing something because you say no. They just stop doing it long enough for you to leave the room and then they resume. In that way, they are very different from dogs! It's usually best if you can get them to put their focus into something you don't mind like a treat ball. We call that "changing the subject" in my house.
post #3 of 12
We have the same problem in the mornings with one cat. It is an on/off issue with him and has nothing to do with dominance in his case but I feel for you for the lack of sleep. We have one way of getting him out of the bedroom, and I thought I'd mention it in case you have not tried.

I figured I have to find out what he really dislikes and what is fast enough that won't require me to get up from bed (at least long enough to wake up for good) because sure enough no "NO" was working for him either (he would just purr however nasty I told him to leave).

So, I went mean... I know he hates being covered up. When he won't stop whining/stomping over my head/trying to climb to the headboard etc I will crab him and shove him under the blankets and block his way out for a minute. This ranks up high on animal cruelty because it is very panicky for him. Nowadays he pretty much knows when I start groping for him and lifting the blanket that he has overstepped his welcome and he'll flee. He might holler a few from the landing but it sure has worked when nothing else did.

I know it's cruel but maybe you just need to step it up a bit. There needs to be some limits! I think the feeder idea is good though - although there is a possibility that if it is about dominance and not about food, he might still just want YOU up not just the food! Hopefully not!

Originally Posted by howtoholdacat View Post
When cats exhibit behaviors that you don't like the most effective means of dissuading them is to distract them with something else.
I wonder if this is true also about cats establishing order of dominance. Geesh I hope they would already be done with it!
post #4 of 12
Thread Starter 
howtoholdacat, we've actually always been under the impression that he's not all that smart, but maybe we're wrong. Our other cat seems much better at understanding what is "desirable" behavior, and therefore more likely to get her treats and pets. Marlon actually went through a horrible stage where he learned that chewing on wires got us out of bed in the morning. Sure, it worked, but I know for a fact that he got at least one small shock from an iPod charger and it didn't seem to slow him down.

We've been wanting to try an auto-feeder, but they all seem sort of problematic. The ones with individual servings are easy to break into (out other cat, Audrey, is very food-motivated and very clever), and the ones that work sort of like gumball machines are only good for larger-sized kibble.

We will definitely be trying a treat ball, though. Hopefully that'll give him something to occupy himself, as well as some food in the morning. That seems most promising for dealing with general dominance issues.

piikki, we're yet to find anything he really dislikes, so we've yet to find a way to go mean. So far we just sort of put him in a time out, which I know he doesn't like, but he hasn't yet associated that with bad behavior. Hopefully he'll figure it out soon.

Thanks guys!
post #5 of 12
Stupid question, perhaps - is there a reason you don't let them free feed? Might be a partial solution.

post #6 of 12
Thread Starter 
Our other cat, Audrey, doesn't self-regulate very well.

She was homeless in the middle of a Northeast winter for at least several months, and seemed to learn that when food was available, she had to eat all of it. We've been working really hard to get her weight down.

A while back my mom took both cats while we were out of town for a week, and Audrey managed to break into her closet and rip open the bag of dry food. She gained about two pounds in just that week.
post #7 of 12
Awww, poor baby. I don't know if there's already been a thread about it in the Care & Grooming forum, but perhaps it's worth a search or a thread to see if anyone has suggestions for an automatic feeder that's worked.

post #8 of 12
Have you looked into this feeder?*+feeder*

OK - problems with automatic feeders:

Solution: (a post on page 2 of that thread:

post #9 of 12
We just went through the same situation you are having with our Forrest. He is definitely now the Alpha over the other two cats and at times I think he has my Husband and I trained to do his bidding too! We love him dearly and he can be a really sweet boy.

Sleep is important to me and after a year of being constantly woken up by Forrest and not getting enough sleep each night I came up with a solution. In our guest bathroom I placed a small covered catbox under the vanity and put bowls of food and water on the counter before I go to bed. When Forrest starts his early morning mewling, knocking things over and making noise in our bedroom trying to get our attention, I just get up, grab the cat and put him in the guest bathroom calling it his "special room". When my Husband gets up in the morning he just opens the door and lets him out.

Giving him his own room really solved a lot of problems. He seems to like going in there now and will mostly run in there on his own. It's still a bit annoying to have to walk across the house and shut the door, but SO MUCH better than losing hours of sleep being annoyed by Forrest's antics to get our attention.

We've tried everything in the past. Ignoring, extended bedtime playtimes, feeding before bed, etc, etc. Nothing worked. Even our other two cats find him annoying at night. We did not want to have to resort to this, but in retrospect I wish I had done it a year ago. He seems to love his own little room, does not cry at all to get out and has now become his routine. Plus, our other two cats are happy cause they can spend the night with us peacefully on the bed.

Hope this helps.
post #10 of 12
Thread Starter 
Forrest definitely sounds a lot like Marlon. Does he engage in herding behavior as well? That's one of Marlon's other horrible habits, and we really don't know how to break it. He can be bitey as well, though we've gotten him over a fair amount of that.

At the same time, he can be an absolute love when the mood strikes him.
post #11 of 12
Originally Posted by NicoleGray View Post
Forrest definitely sounds a lot like Marlon. Does he engage in herding behavior as well? That's one of Marlon's other horrible habits, and we really don't know how to break it. He can be bitey as well, though we've gotten him over a fair amount of that.

At the same time, he can be an absolute love when the mood strikes him.
Forrest is also a little love. If he had it his way he would have me carrying him around over my shoulder like a human baby for 1/2 the day.

He does not try to "herd" us, but he is VERY demanding. My Husband calls him "the little tyrant" . When he wants to be fed, picked up, paid attention to, etc. he becomes extremely vocal. If we don't immediately comply he gets louder. If that doesn't work he will engage in a behavior that makes me mad.

He is very routine oriented. If our normal schedule is somehow disrupted he seems to act on his worst behavior.

Forrest did herd Zachary around when we first adopted him. Zach was afraid to explore the house and Forrest would get behind him and push him into different rooms of the house. He also is very annoying to Lilly and will try to dominate and put his paw on her forehead all the time if we don't stop him.

Although he's a handful and takes more work than our other cats, he is well worth the little extra effort to have him in our lives.
post #12 of 12
Our Bru Bru does the same thing. He knocks things over and makes noise to wake us up. He has rustled paper, he has knocked books and the alarm clock off the night stand. Hubby woke up once with the lamp on his pillow lol. If it's 3 or 4 AM I just get up....shoo him out of the bedroom and lock the door. He doesnt seem to mind and still does it over and over. I think it's become a Game to him. We love him and his personality so much but as you say he is a lot more work than my other 2. He's always into everything. I was just heating something in the microwave and left the room for a second. When I came back he was looking in the door watching it like a tv. He also got in the bread box once when I was making toast. I think he is very smart.....always thinking of new ways to get into trouble.

Edit....Bru bru actually looks a lot like Forrest except he's a tuxedo. He is also very long, lean, athletic and vocal. He walks on our headboard that's only an inch wide.
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