As we know, the potential for learning exists inside every cat. In fact, behind that impenetrable gaze, most cats are easy to teach. Their capacity for learning lies just beneath the surface, like a vast mineral deposit just waiting to be tapped. If your cat is like most, the next three weeks will be a breeze.
Yet for certain cats, the idea of changing even the simplest behavior is like looking for a diamond in a mountain of gravel. If this is your cat, what should you do? How do you find the diamond? You don’t. You let the cat find it for you.
Unlike conventional training, in which an animal is taught to respond to an outside stimulus (the threat of pain or the promise of a reward), the 21-Day Program employs a form of behavior modification that takes full advantage of your cat’s intelligence and flexibility. You do half of the work, and your cat does the other half.
The object is to induce a new form of “chaining” behavior through progressive modification—gradually altering the environment in which the old behavior was expressed by shifting the height, position, and size of the litter box vis-á-vis toilet until box and toilet become one. Unlike conventional training, which is only effective when the animal is paying full attention, progressive modification works no matter what your cat’s mood happens to be.
More important, the 21-Day Program does not require the cat to do anything outside of his normal repertoire. While using the toilet, your cat will balance himself, squat on his hind legs, and expel in virtually the same way he would in a litter box, garden, or open field. The physical behavior is essentially the same. Only the setting is different.
Your job as the cat’s trainer is to break down the change of circumstances into a series of small, comprehensible steps—tiny hurdles that are so insignificant that your cat will naturally accommodate himself in order to maintain the status quo. Each time your cat departs from his previous pattern in response to the next hurdle, following a predetermined path, he establishes a new link in what eventually becomes an entirely new “chain” of behavior. The “chaining” phenomenon is a fundamental aspect of feline psychology and the key to the success of the 21-Day Program.
Virtually any adolescent or adult male or female can learn to use a toilet instead of a litter box as long as the cat is neutered (don’t even attempt to train an unaltered cat!), completely litter trained (using the box in the bathroom, next to the toilet), and capable of jumping sixteen inches from the floor in a single leap. Once you are certain that your cat is using the litter box when placed next to the toilet, your objective will be to construct a new chain of behavior that your cat can master one link at a time. Like any other skill, toilet training takes time and practice. So no matter how enthusiastic your cat might appear in the early phase, don’t rush. For the technique to be effective, your cat will need plenty of time to replace the memory of his old behavior with the new behavior chain that he is learning.
The first link in his chain will be to raise the box one or two inches per day—slowly coaxing the cat to step up, hop up, and finally jump up in order to use the box. Then, as the box is slowly raised to the same level as the toilet and the act of jumping has been thoroughly mastered, you will continue the chain by allowing the cat to become accustomed to the toilet seat, giving him enough time to explore its solid surface and use it as a platform for jumping up and down.
Within ten to fourteen days, the cat will come to trust this new arrangement enough for you to add the next link in the chain: introducing an obstacle that will inspire the cat to position himself over the litter by balancing on the edge of the toilet seat rather than standing in the litter itself.
Coaxing the cat to balance on the seat as soon as possible is the key to successful toilet training. Turning that key, however, is not always easy.
Once the litter box has been raised to the same height as the toilet seat, most cats will take to using the toilet seat within two or three days. Thus, following the Standard Method, you can dispense with the litter box next to the toilet, substituting a miniature “litter box” that you attach to the porcelain rim just below the toilet seat. (This is easy to set up, remove when someone needs to use the bathroom, and dispose of after the cat has done his business.)
If, on the other hand, your cat seems slow or resistant to change, you may want to use the Alternate Method, in which you raise the litter box to the same level as the toilet seat and keep it there for several days. During this period, you will construct the same miniature box as described in the Standard Method. At the same time, you will attach a spare toilet seat on top of the raised litter box and manipulate this arrangement until the cat discovers how easy it is to use the litter by balancing on the spare toilet seat—taking as much time as the cat requires to get it right. Once this occurs, you can safely remove the litter box, while retaining the miniature litter box located beneath the real toilet seat next door.
After the cat begins to use the miniature litter box beneath the toilet seat, you will gradually eliminate the litter until there is none at all. By the end of the 21 days, your cat will be so accustomed to jumping up, positioning himself, and balancing on the edge of the toilet seat that he will not even miss the litter. And so long as you give him complete access to his new environment (always keeping the bathroom door open and the toilet seat down), he will continue to jump up and position himself as though on autopilot.
Without the constant smell of urine and feces filling his nostrils, your cat will not only look happier and healthier, he will feel like a totally new creature—as though a terrible weight has been lifted from his furry little shoulders. And you, after 21 days of minimal effort, can sit back and enjoy the benefits of having a completely toilet-trained cat: no litter to buy, no mess to clean up, and, above all, no smell!
The vast majority of cats are capable of following the Standard 21-Day Program. For the Standard Method, you will need:
1. A shallow plastic litter box. The box should be about fourteen inches wide by about twenty inches long, reasonably sturdy, but fairly shallow—no more than three or four inches deep. Though a shallow pan might have more spillage than a deep one—particularly if your cat likes to dig and spread the litter around—it is easier for the cat to jump into, and less likely to tip over when raised several inches off the floor. If you can’t find a shallow box, use one that’s a little deeper. Try to avoid using a box that is more than four inches deep.
2. Enough cat litter to last for 21 days. If your cat has a favorite brand, continue to use it. If you’ve been using a heavily scented brand, buy a small bag of that brand, plus a small bag of an unscented brand. Since many cats are “hooked” on the smell of their chemically treated litter, it’s important to wean them off the smell slowly by using less and less of the chemically treated litter and more and more of the unscented brand.
3. Books, magazines, newspapers—anything that is wide, flat, and stable—in sufficient quantity to create a stack fourteen inches wide, twenty inches long, and fourteen to sixteen inches high. Because you will be raising the litter box an inch or two per day during the first eight or nine days of the program, you will not need a huge pile of material to begin the program. Yet once you start raising the box, you must continue to raise it (collecting books and magazines as needed) until you’ve reached the proper height. Don’t use anything to support the box that you might need at a moment’s notice. If you’re collecting magazines or other potentially slippery materials, you might want to tape them together so that your stack is extra-stable and your cat feels secure when jumping up.
4. One roll of heavy-duty plastic wrap. Needed to construct a miniature litter box in the center of the toilet seat during the final phase of the program.
5. One roll of wide adhesive tape. Used for securing the plastic wrap to the toilet’s rim.
For the Alternate Method, you will need the same five items, plus:
6. A spare toilet seat. An intermediate step that eases the cat’s transition from the raised litter box to the toilet, the spare toilet seat (secured on top of the litter box) gives the cat time to practice positioning and balancing himself—before he graduates to the real thing. Inexpensive toilet seats are available online and at any hardware or home supply store for less than $20.
This is all you will need to complete the program. But before you begin, take a look at your calendar. If you cannot be home for 21 consecutive days, put the training off until you have a block of time when you’ll be home. For the 21-Day Program to be successful, you must pay attention to the timing and sequence of details. Starting the 21-Day Program and then leaving halfway through with instructions for your next-door neighbor to follow while you’re away is not a good idea.
If you have an extra bathroom, try to reserve it for your cat during and after training. The reasons are obvious. For one thing, toilet training is a delicate time for your cat; once you begin, nothing should be allowed to disturb or impede his progress. Sharing a bathroom with a pack of bathroom-hoarding teenagers is not the best way to change your cat’s most intimate behavior. Nor is it pleasant for a guest (or for you) to find a litter box rising next to the toilet or, later, finding a toilet filled with cat droppings.
Whether or not you have an extra bathroom, it’s important that the bathroom be kept as clean and odor-free as possible, with the door open and the toilet seat always down (with the seat cover up)—even during the first few days, when the cat is using the litter box and not the toilet itself. Having a spare bathroom, one that’s not in constant use, will make this somewhat easier. Otherwise, you must be vigilant: an unappealing bathroom, or one that’s inaccessible, is the surest way of discouraging your cat from ever making the transition from litter to loo.
When Beverly Moore first laid eyes on Barnum and Bailey, the two black-and-white mixed-breed shorthairs were the last to be adopted of a litter of eight kittens. “They had been raised on a ranch near Midland, Texas,” says Beverly, a native Texan who now lives in New York City. “And like most range cats, they spent nearly all of their time outside.”
Until moving to New York, Beverly had never realized how much work a litter box would be. Buying litter, hauling it home, maintaining the box, and disposing of dirty litter became a real burden. “I had heard of toilet training, but I never knew how easy it was,” she says.
Using the Standard Method, Beverly trained her cats in less than a month, even though Barnum is a klutz. “Like a lot of big cats, he’s always climbing on things and falling because the surface isn’t large enough to support him,” she admits. “Needless to say, we’ve become good friends with our veterinarian.” Yet the vet didn’t know that Beverly’s cats were toilet trained until Bailey came down with a bladder infection.“The vet needed a urine sample, so I took Bailey into the bathroom and obtained a sample with no problem.
The vet,” she adds, “was extremely impressed.”
Gaining the Upper Paw
No matter how hard you try, it’s futile to expect a cat to change his most intimate behavior without considerable planning. In fact, convincing a cat to do anything—especially something he has never seen before—can be difficult at best. Therefore, you should not deviate from the details contained in this chapter; nor should you expect the 21-Day Program to work in less than three full weeks.
Because cats are living things subject to an almost infinite number of eccentricities (the same as people), every feline reacts differently to behavior modification. Therefore, when training any animal, remember that every action you take has either a positive or negative effect on your cat’s progress. “It’s impossible to train a cat, or any pet, until the owner has first trained himself,” says Brian Kilcommons, a pet trainer and the author of Good Owners, Great Cats. “In order to maintain control over the situation, the owner must ensure that every action is fair, firm, and fun.”
Fair. If at any time you sense that something is wrong, you should first analyze your own actions. Are you following the program precisely? Is your timing correct? Are you rushing your cat? Are you taking too much time between steps? (Forward motion is important here—you don’t want to give your cat time to balk or get bored.) Are you cleaning the box every day as usual? Are you giving the right verbal support each time the cat succeeds? Are you confusing the cat with improper commands or gestures? Each of these things can throw even the brightest feline off his stride.
Firm. Assuming that you are following the instructions, are you treating the cat firmly, without compromise? In order for the cat to change his behavior, you must be prepared to enforce the new regime if necessary. But remember that enforcement is not punishment; it’s correction. If, for instance, on day eleven, a cat refuses to transfer from box to toilet, try picking him up and placing him on the toilet seat—gently, so that he will not be frightened or disturbed. You must make certain that your cat knows what’s expected—and does it again and again until the new habit takes hold. Praising the desired behavior—and correcting the undesired—will work wonders.
Fun. If you make training enjoyable, you will shorten the time it takes for the cat to learn what you want him to do. “No cat will allow himself to be trained unless he wants to do it,” Kilcommons observes. “Therefore, you must praise him when he does something right, then praise him again. The harder he works for you, the better.”
Whether your cat is bright or somewhat slow, the basics of toilet training are the same for every cat. When in doubt, follow the instructions precisely and be patient.
In addition to making sure every action is fair, firm, and fun, be sure to . . .
Keep things simple. Don’t let your cat think that anything “new” or “different” is happening. This will only divert the cat from the matter at hand. By keeping things as simple as possible, providing a clear, well-defined problem with only one solution, followed by another problem (with only one solution), and another, you leave little or no room for your cat to make mistakes.
Don’t push too fast. Even the smartest cat will become confused or give up if he feels he’s being pushed too fast, so don’t press beyond your cat’s comfort level. Instead of concentrating on the next step, concentrate on the present and watch for signs of reluctance or stress. If your cat looks wobbly or erratic, be prepared to retreat one step for every two forward. Sudden changes in training or environment should also be avoided. Remember, as far as a cat is concerned, the best surprise is no surprise.
Make every experience count. Each time your cat interacts with you, he is learning something. When he rubs against your leg and you scratch his ears, he’s learning. When he buries his waste in the litter box, then watches you grab your scoop, dig it out, and bag it up, he’s learning. He’s learning that you can be directed—that, as far as the litter box is concerned, he’s in charge. He is not saying, “Oh, what a helpful owner I have.” He’s saying, “Oh, what an obedient owner I have!” Thus, when he decides to do his thing outside of the box, and watches you immediately clean it up, the pattern is further reinforced.
Therefore, once you decide to toilet train your cat, you must let him know who is boss. From now on, every time your cat does something right, you must praise him for ten seconds, tell him he is marvelous, then ignore him. This way, the cat will learn to respond to you, rather than you responding to the cat. When you pet your cat, make it warm, loving—and brief.
Use commands precisely. Since felines do not understand the English language, there’s no point explaining things in too much detail. Remember that cats respond more to the sound of your voice than the actual words. Once your cat has completed a particular stage of the program, praise him for complying. You want to make this new experience as pleasant for the cat as possible. Most felines look to their owner for approval. Then again . . .
Don’t overpraise. Unlike dogs, cats will perform an action only if there is some logical reason for doing so. Dogs will do any number of things for the promise of a subsequent reward. Cats are “feel good” creatures that strive to enhance their physical and mental comfort.
The more you wait for your cat to perform correctly before you give praise, the more he will work. If the cat comes to expect praise every time he goes to the john, he may not be able to go without it. Who is going to provide the essential words when you’re not at home? Using the toilet should be its own reward.
Be reliable. If you want your pet to perform and obey, you must be worthy of his respect. The more reliable you are, the happier your cat will be. Consistency in what you say, how you say it, what you expect, and how you respond makes all the difference when training a cat.
Keep things pleasant. Never reprimand your cat for doing something that is not exactly right; otherwise, he may never do it again. Ideally, you should never use the word “no” if you expect the cat to do something and he does it a little differently than you’d hoped. Why? Because cats naturally associate the word “no” with a reprimand: “no” when you find him sleeping in the washer/dryer; “no” when he jumps up on the counter; “no” when he’s shredding the arm of your favorite love seat. Therefore, when the cat begins to associate the word “no” with whatever you are trying to teach him, he is likely to follow your command and stop or run away. Should he become frightened or hurt himself during training, you can be sure he will never go near a toilet again. One bad experience is all it takes. Failure to secure the litter box to its support (Standard Method) or to secure the spare toilet seat to the litter (Alternate Method) are the two leading causes of accidents while following the 21-Day Program.
Don’t get angry. No matter what happens, it’s not worth losing your temper. Punishment or the threat of punishment is totally ineffective with cats, because it invokes rebellion rather than submission, or worse, a desire to escape. Remember, cats do most things for their own reasons. If a cat sees some advantage in performing a particular action, he will do it automatically. If not, anger will only make matters worse. Treat your cat poorly and he will dive under the bed.
So, keeping this in mind, let’s begin.
Place the shallow litter box on the floor next to the toilet, which from now on will always have the seat down and the seat cover up. Fill the box with no more than one inch of litter to make cleaning easier and to help control the odor. Remember, boxes with more litter tend to smell worse than those containing less.
Slip one or two magazines or newspapers under the litter box, raising it about half an inch off the floor. This will force the cat to step up before using the box. Remember to check the box every few hours and clean it thoroughly every other day so that smells do not accumulate.
Slip another two or three magazines or newspapers under the box, raising it a full inch off the floor. When choosing titles, think large format. No Reader’s Digest, please. Whatever you have around will probably work. If you’re using magazines and they’re glossy or slippery, tape the stack together to provide a sturdier base.
Continue adding magazines and/or newspapers. As you can see, the idea is to slowly raise the box higher and higher until it reaches the height of the toilet. Elevation rates vary depending on the cat’s size, age, and willingness to learn. Most cats love to jump; others are more resistant. Keep in mind that a small kitten can only jump certain heights until he has had time to grow.
Keep raising the box. By the sixth day, your cat will probably notice what you are doing and put two and two together. Don’t be surprised if he follows you to the magazine pile, then runs to the bathroom and watches you slip the next installment under the litter box.
By now, he will have to jump a little higher each day to use it. But don’t worry, the chance of him rejecting the box because of height is extremely small. Four inches isn’t much of a barrier, even for a tiny kitten. As long as the box remains steady and clean, he will continue to use it.
Continue raising the box at the same pace as before—and be patient. Toward the end of the first week, many owners try to speed up the process by raising the box three or four inches per day—overlooking the fact that change must be gradual for the cat to avoid confusion and develop the trust needed to stay on track.
If the slow progress is boring you, try focusing on something else, such as the cat litter you’re using up. If it’s a highly fragranced, chemically treated litter, your cat will miss the druglike fragrance if it is suddenly removed, and that will impede his ultimate move from litter to toilet. With this in mind, now would be a good time to start weaning your cat from the fragrance by gradually mixing it with an unscented brand.
Depending on the severity of his dependence, it can take a full two weeks for a cat to withdraw from heavily scented cat litter. Like the change in height, any change in litter must be gradual. Now that his jumping pattern is well underway, you can begin altering the mixture, using two-thirds scented litter to one-third unscented.
Continue raising the box. Now that it’s a full eight to ten inches off the floor, you might consider replacing the stacks of newspapers or magazines with something more solid—woodblocks, bricks, cinderblocks, whatever is at hand—but only if a substitute is readily available, and only if you can continue raising the height gradually. Though cats have a superb sense of balance, the box must be stable enough to remain steady every time your cat jumps up to use it.
Now that the cat is really jumping, you can safely raise the litter box two inches per day—one inch in the morning, another in the evening—so long as you make sure that the cat uses the box at each new level before raising the box further. If you detect the slightest hint of resistance, hold the box at that level until the resistance subsides. Try not to lower the box, if possible. Once the cat feels secure again, within a day or two, you can resume slowly—no more than one inch per day.
Don’t forget to clean and change the litter as needed, gradually adjusting the proportion of scented/unscented litter.
Now that the top of the litter box is level with the surface of the toilet seat, raise it another inch or two until the bottom of the litter box is at the same level as the toilet seat. Make sure the box is secure on its pile of magazines, books, or bricks, and hold it there for two full days.
Once your cat has reached this exalted height, he will need a little extra time to reinforce the habit of jumping up and down next to the adjoining toilet seat (which should always be down with the seat cover up). With any luck, he will take time to inspect the toilet seat while doing his business, peer down into the cool waters, and even step over the seat as a way of jumping up and down—confirming that it is solid enough to support his entire weight.
Continue cleaning the litter every day. If you are adjusting the litter, you should now be using half scented and half unscented.
Having raised the litter box to the same level as the toilet seat, the next step will be to persuade the cat to balance himself on the toilet seat—a step that fills many owners with visions of their cats falling into the water, grabbing at the flusher, and descending into the municipal sewer system. There is no need to worry about a cat slipping off the toilet seat. Now that the jumping/balancing reflex has been thoroughly ingrained, an occasional slip will not deter the cat. Instead it will force him to solve the problem by jumping up on the other side of the toilet, then leaning against the back of the toilet for support.
Rather than concern yourself with irrational fears, take a moment to rate your cat’s progress so far. The purpose of making gradual, incremental changes during the first two weeks of the program is to make sure that the cat reprograms himself to change his behavior every time you change the height of his box. Like any other animal, a cat learns best by association and repetition.
So ask yourself: Has your cat made consistent progress with no objections? Or has he been resistant? Has he taken time to walk around the toilet seat during the past few days, accepting it as part of the litter box? Or has he taken pains to avoid it, always jumping up and down from the other side of the box?
With any luck, your cat will have already demonstrated a form of “chaining” behavior—associating a specific sequence of events (looking up, jumping up, balancing, using the litter box, jumping down) with a pleasurable experience. If so, you can continue the 21-Day Program using the Standard Method, designed for cats that accept change with little or no reluctance. The Standard Method is by far the simplest, most straightforward way of completing your cat’s toilet training.
Many thousands of cats have been trained using variants of the Standard Method in every conceivable situation with very few failures. It works!
If, on the other hand, your cat has been resistant or reluctant to jump higher and higher, he may need a little extra time. In this case, you should follow the Alternate Method, which requires the use of a spare toilet seat placed over the litter box during the final seven days of training. Though it’s a bit more trouble (and more difficult to explain to guests who might need to use the bathroom), the Alternate Method ensures that your cat will have enough time to balance and position himself properly before you take the final step of removing the box. Followed carefully and diligently, the chance of failure using this Alternate Method is even smaller than with the Standard Method.
Once you have decided which method to follow, take a deep breath and proceed to Day 14.
Move the litter box an inch or two toward the toilet seat, so that one-quarter of the box is resting on the toilet itself. As far as the cat is concerned, very little has changed. Positioning the box this way virtually forces him to support himself on the edge of the toilet seat, if only while jumping up and down. Of course, you will have to move the box each time a member of the household wants to use the bathroom. But remember to replace the box in its previous position after every use.
Place the spare toilet seat on top of the litter box, with the lid up and the seat down, attaching it securely. You can use any method of holding them together. For most people, using wide adhesive tape around the sides is effective, since it requires no complex hardware and can be easily removed when the box needs to be cleaned. There is no need to remove the toilet seat cover; in fact, it is best to keep it in a raised position just like the real toilet beside it. The idea is to make the litter box and the toilet appear as similar (to the cat) as possible.
Don’t be lazy. Many owners fail to anchor the seat to the box properly and thus jeopardize the whole toilet training process. Even though it is quite heavy and feels secure when placed over a box, a loose toilet seat can be easily knocked over by a rambunctious cat, thus ruining all of your progress.
Once your cat begins using the litter box with a toilet seat attached, watch carefully. Presented with this obstacle, most cats will walk around the edge of the toilet seat, testing its stability, and finally, miraculously, will balance on the edge of the toilet seat, with their posterior over the litter.
If your cat performs correctly, watch to make sure that he does it several times without variation, then proceed to Day 17. If not, don’t despair. By squeezing himself into the center of the spare toilet seat rather than balancing himself on the edge, your cat has proven that you were right to select the Alternate Method. Unless he is very small, he will eventually feel cramped and discover a more pleasant way to use the litter on the second or third try. If necessary, wait an entire day and watch from a distance to see whether he learns to balance on the seat rather than step into the box. Don’t confuse the issue by trying to teach him—for the behavior to take hold, the cat must decide to balance on the seat himself.
Meanwhile, continue cleaning the box as usual, adding a little less scented and a little more unscented litter.
Move the litter box again, so that three-quarters of it rests on the toilet seat. The rest of the box will remain on the support next to the toilet. As before, the cat will jump up, but this time, he will relieve himself closer to the toilet seat. While using the box, he will note the raised toilet seat cover, the edge of the toilet seat, and the water below—all of these sights associated with the pleasurable experience of relieving himself.
As you continue cleaning the litter, you can now start using two-thirds of the new nonchemical litter and one-third of the cat’s old brand.
Continue watching. If the cat learns to balance himself on the toilet seat, watch to make sure he does it every time he eliminates. (Once you are satisfied that he is doing it again and again, you can proceed to Day 17.)
If your cat doesn’t seem to be catching on, don’t panic. Many cats will learn to balance themselves by the end of the fifteenth or sixteenth day; others take more time. Eventually you may have to nudge him in a manner that allows him to make the move himself. Remember: Your cat must learn to balance by himself, otherwise he is likely to slip back or become confused at a later time. Too much talk or hovering at this critical moment can easily cause your cat to associate your presence and/or verbal assurances with the act of balancing on the toilet seat. So stand back and, above all, be patient.
Place the litter box directly over the toilet seat and remove the books, magazines, or bricks you have used to support the box next to the toilet. Secure the litter box with wide adhesive tape placed at strategic points where the box adjoins the porcelain underneath.
Now you can see why it’s important to use a shallow litter box. As your cat’s landing pad, the litter box will now be subjected to sudden force every time your cat jumps up and down. Therefore, the box must be anchored securely. Any slip at this point would be disastrous.
Removing the pile of books or magazines next to the toilet will be the biggest change so far. So to make the cat feel more secure, keep the litter box in this position for at least one full day—or two days if you detect any confusion or resistance.
During this phase—constantly removing and replacing the litter box each time someone visits the bathroom—your patience may start to wear thin. You may start to question the entire procedure. But don’t! Things may look dark, but somewhere down that long tunnel, a beam of light is starting to form.
If, by the sixteenth day, your cat still persists in squeezing himself into the toilet seat and using the litter directly, now is the time to act. Take a strip of adhesive tape, trim it to the width of a quarter inch, and stick it under the edge of the toilet seat—across the hole of the toilet seat, directly over the litter—leaving the sticky side exposed.
The next time your cat visits the box, he will notice the obstruction and start to circle round and round the edge of the toilet seat. Since using the litter has been thoroughly ingrained, the cat will continue to circle until, with any luck, he decides that the only way is to balance himself on the edge of the toilet seat.
If this doesn’t work and he continues to go inside the box, attach another piece of tape across the box in the other direction. With the second piece of tape, squeezing into the box will be even more difficult. Eventually, he will solve the problem the only way he can. Keep the litter box steady to build up his trust.
Watch the situation carefully to make sure that he is really balancing on the seat of the toilet before proceeding to the next step.
By this time, your cat should be ready to use the toilet itself, without a litter box or spare toilet seat. Therefore, the next four days will be spent reinforcing everything your cat has learned—while reducing his dependence on the smell and texture of litter through a technique known as “successive approximation.”
If you are using the Standard Method, you should be certain that your cat is comfortable jumping up and using the litter box while it is on top of the toilet seat.
If you are using the Alternate Method, your cat should have succeeded in balancing himself on the spare toilet seat positioned over the litter box.
Now is the time to remove the litter box/spare toilet seat (as well as the books and magazines underneath). Put them away and keep them out of sight. Clean the box thoroughly and store it where your cat will not find it. At this point, it’s important that he not smell anything associated with the litter box.
Next, lift the toilet seat, take a sheet of heavy-duty plastic wrap, and attach the plastic across the toilet’s porcelain rim. Many brands of plastic wrap will cling to porcelain; others will not. Reinforce the edges with adhesive tape to be certain. If you’d like to make the plastic wrap more secure, you can tape along the length and width of the toilet seat.
Leave a slight depression in the plastic as you secure it. Finally, place a cup (or less) of unscented cat litter (with only a small amount of scented litter, if necessary) into the depression and lower the toilet seat, keeping the toilet seat cover up. Now open the bathroom door and keep it open.
For cats following the Standard Method, the next visit to the bathroom will be a pivotal experience. Using position and smell as his guide, he will jump up onto the toilet seat and discover that the litter will not support him as securely as before. Therefore, he will circle round and round, eventually balancing himself on the toilet seat.
Watch him to make certain this happens the first time he uses the new arrangement. Assuming that your cat is reasonably intelligent, he will analyze the situation and position himself over the litter, balanced on the edge of the toilet seat, right away. If not, you must confine him to the bathroom until he gets the idea. Once he learns to perform properly, the combination of jumping, expressing himself while balancing, and the resulting pleasure will form the complete “chain” that allows the cat to remember his new behavior. Replace the plastic stretched across the porcelain rim with a new sheet after each usage, making sure it is secure every time.
For cats following the Alternate Method, simply watch and be patient. Because you’ve taken extra time and allowed the cat to perfect his balance on the spare toilet seat, the sudden absence of a litter box will not throw him off.
Get a fresh piece of plastic wrap, but this time, cut a two-inch-diameter hole in the center of it. Attach the plastic, stretching it tightly across the toilet and sprinkling litter around the hole, leaving the hole itself exposed. At this point, the cat will jump up, balance himself on the toilet seat as before, see the litter with the hole in the center, and do his business as though nothing had changed. This time, however, he will see and smell water, and hear a distinctly audible sound as he eliminates. Should the cat reach down instinctively with his paw to bury the waste, he will discover that the waste has fallen through the two-inch hole. Mission accomplished.
Now make a slightly larger hole in the plastic, three inches across, using even less litter than before. At this point, the water beneath the plastic should be clearly visible—another link in the “chaining” behavior that tells the cat to jump up, balance, relieve himself into the now-diminished “litter,” and jump down. Experienced in the ways of toiletry, your cat should feel quite secure on his new perch. The end of the tunnel is clearly in sight.
By this point, your cat should be completely adjusted to using the toilet, allowing you to dispense with the plastic wrap and cat litter. As long as you keep the toilet cover up, the seat down, and the bathroom door open, nothing will go awry.
Now, as you step away from the dark tunnel into the full light of day, take a moment to think of what you’ve accomplished. No more litter box, no more litter, no more cleaning, and no more smell!
As a symbol of your emancipation, remove all traces of your horrible old litter-box life—the box itself, the excess litter, the cleaning tools, as well as the plastic wrap and adhesive tape you used during the past few days. All contain traces of the smell that drives you and your cat mad. Besides, you will not need them any longer. While you’re at it, clean the bathroom, removing any leftover smell of litter, keeping the bathroom door open and the toilet lid up (with the seat down).
Finally, fill out the certificate, then give your cat a friendly pat on the head and yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.