When Cupcake is going places and will be away from her litter box for hours at a time, I don’t want to worry about accidents. Using the advice my Mom gave me, “Always use the bathroom before you leave the house,” I try to make sure Cupcake does just that.
This is especially important because Cupcake hasn’t yet figured out that it would be all right to take care of business in the grass or dirt outside, so that limits her options when we are away from home. Thankfully, our friend Summer at Sparklecat shared a great technique for pre-outing litter box visits, and I have adapted it for Cupcake.
Have a Key Phrase
First, think of a keyword to use when you want your cat to use the litter box. Summer said at her house, that phrase is “Go potty.” I couldn’t think of a better one, especially since I won’t use that phrase by accident for anything else. It just isn’t language I use to refer to the human toilet, so there isn’t likely to be any misunderstanding.
Looking back, I wish I had thought of “poop rainbows” because it would have been really funny to use as a key phrase to get my cat to use the litterbox. Too bad I missed the opportunity at the time!
Catch Your Cat Doing Things Right
The key to all good cat training is positive reinforcement. So you need to watch for when your cat uses the litter box. If your litter box isn’t in the line of sight of the part of the house where you hang out, this part might be a little inconvenient, but it’s important.
When your cat hops in and does her business, say your key phrase. After a while, your cat will associate those words with using the litter box.
After your cat emerges from the litter box, lavish praise on her like she just won a cat show. You can use the same or very similar phrase in your praise to further reinforce it. I use “Good potty!” while I’m petting and fussing over Cupcake after she uses the litter.
Anticipate When Your Cat Needs to Go
If you have been watching a while to catch your cat in the litter box, you’ll get an idea of when she is likely to go. Some cats like to go just after a meal or after they wake up, for example. When you think your cat needs to use the box, take her in there yourself and say your key phrase.
Cupcake usually squats and takes care of business immediately. Since we have two litter boxes next to each other, I can have a “do over” and put her in the other box if she doesn’t seem to want to go, which nearly always seems to reset something in her brain and gets her to get on with it.
Make it a Routine for Going Out
Once your cat starts to understand that being put in the box and given the key phrase means it’s time to go, it’s time to make it a routine. Cats love routines, so doing things in the same order every time helps your cat understand what is going on and anticipate what you expect of her.
For Cupcake, that routine starts with putting on her harness. With her harness on, I put her in the litterbox and say, “Go potty.” When she finishes and comes out of the box, I pet her and tell her, “Good potty!” After that, it’s time to go into her carrier. Then she is a cat going places!
To maintain this routine, Cupcake even goes into the carrier when we are just going out into the front yard. Consistency is key to your cat understanding what is going on and being able to cooperate with you so you can go places together.