DEAR JOAN: When our cat, Mau, adopted us, we were living in a small house with a door to close off the living room. When we moved to a house with no door to protect the furniture, we bought a tall scratching post covered in carpeting and with three platforms, hoping this would keep him away from the furniture.
During the move, we locked him in the bathroom with his litter box to keep him out of the way. That evening we kept a close watch on him while we were watching TV.
The first time he put his paws up on the sofa, obviously intending to scratch, I pounced on him. I said "No! Leave the furniture alone." Then I carried him to the scratching post, placed his paws on the post and said, in soothing tones, "This is your place, you can scratch all you want."
He looked at me over his shoulder as I let go and moved away. Then he did a couple of scratches, looked back again, then bounded to the top perch, hanging on with his claws, then looked again to assess my reaction.
Problem solved. He loved his perch post and never scratched any of the furniture.
Bob van Duinen, Walnut Creek, Calif.
DEAR BOB: Who says cats can't be trained? Not me. You did exactly the right thing in teaching Mau that he needed to use his scratching post, which seems like a lot more fun than any couch.
When trying to convince cats not to scratch the furnishings, first make sure the scratching post is the right size. Those small, stubby ones you can pick up anywhere for a few bucks might not be large enough for bigger cats. Cats like to stretch out as they scratch, and those don't give them much space to do that. The wrong size post also can tip over, which can startle the cat and make it wary of trying again.
The material also matters. Some cats like the feel of carpeting between their toes, and others like the coarse feel of sisal. A scratching post that has both is ideal.
To get the ball rolling, rub the scratching post down with catnip. Most cats go crazy for catnip and they'll start using the post just to get that contact high.