Make Success Easy; Avoid Punishment

Question:
I have two cats, Puppy and Critter. Puppy uses the Litter Robot to urinate but defecates right in front of it. When I catch him I sharply tell him no and bad. When I catch him defecating in the Litter Robot I pet him, praise him, and give him snacks. I cleaned up his feces for the second time today and out of frustration, pushed his nose into his mess. My girlfriend told me that could have bad consequences and showed me your site.

Dr. Nichol:
Positive reinforcement matters. Punishment usually fails because it doesn’t give the pet a clue about what you really want. Puppy is happy that you got it half right. Setting him up for success will require you to address the cause of his confusion.

Fecal soiling near a litter pan usually results from environmental stress or an unpleasant behavioral association with defecating in that contraption, the type of litter, or perhaps the depth of litter. Cats take the process of elimination seriously; it may even be a spiritual experience. If Puppy was startled, if Critter ambushed him during that special moment, or if he had pain even once while defecating he may have an aversion to the whole setup.

Add another litter pan-a big one-with no cover, liner, or motorized self-cleaning feature. Experiment with different depths of a premium clumping litter like Fresh Step with carbon. Scoop twice daily; empty and rinse the pan weekly. Reduce the power of suggestion of former fecal fiascos with the enzymatic cleaner Anti Icky Poo. Continue your good pet parenting of rewarding Puppy when he gets it right but completely ignore him when you encounter evidence of a fecal felony. Finally, your significant other is right; a nose packed with poop has never brought out the best in anyone.