Two years ago, I wrote my first article sharing the benefits of cat training…. Just for fun, here’s that article!
“Training time!” That’s the call I make every day to Cinder. Except she’s not my dog like you might suppose. She’s my cat.
Like most adult cats, Cinder knows how to use the litter box and a scratching post. In other words, she doesn’t need training in the basics of pet protocol.
So I could just let her play with her numerous toys and take those long naps for which cats are famous. Instead I add training to her day.
Reasons to Train
- Builds a strong bond between you and your cat.
- Exercises your cat’s mind and keeps it stimulated.
- Teaches your cat good social behavior skills.
- Calms anxious and nervous cats. The repetition and routine of training will reassure them.
- Keeps your cat out of danger. If your indoor cat escapes outside, having a recall command will bring her back.
- Brings joy to you. Imagine hiding food under plastic cups and your cat finding the treats.
How To Train
Don’t think training will work for your cat? Despite the limited number of articles on cat training in contrast to those on dogs, many cats CAN be trained. The first step is to accept that cats aren’t as social as dogs. Having a more independent personality, cats aren’t as inclined to work for praise and attention as dogs are. They’re also not as easy to motivate. For that reason, the real trick is getting your cat to do what you want.
- For some cats, reinforcing a specific behavior with food might work while for others toys work best. No matter what type of motivator you use, there are some tips to train smart with your cat:
- If you’re using food treats, conduct training sessions just before mealtimes. Your cat’s natural desire for food at his regular mealtime will sharpen his focus and increase his desire to obey you.
- Use the same command words each time. It will only confuse your cat if you say “come” on some occasions and “here” on others.
- Use your cat’s name along with the command you’re trying to teach.
- Take baby steps. Work with behaviors that come naturally to make it easy for your cat to obey. Then progress to more difficult commands.
- Teach only one command at a time and repeat the lesson daily until she responds reliably. Praise your cat when she performs the behavior for which you have called.
- Keep the training sessions short. Cats can get easily bored.
- Train your cat as regularly as possible. Training your cat once a month won’t get results.
- Be patient. Your cat is unique. While he may learn some commands quickly, others may cause him to struggle. Design your training to fit his personality.
- Cats don’t always see objects well that are close-up and stationery. If taking a treat from your fingers proves a challenge to your cat, try offering it to him in your flat palm or tossing it on the floor. He’ll see the movement when you toss it and know where the treat is.
- Try to end on a positive note. If your cat appears frustrated or impatient, quit and conduct the lesson at another time.
Another important concept is to reward instead of punish. The latter creates stress, one of the most common causes for problem behaviors in cats. Stress also compromises the immune system, making your cat more vulnerable to disease. Depending on your cat’s temperament, punishment could frighten your cat to the point where he hides from you. It’s much easier to train your cat when you reward behaviors you want and offer him more attractive alternatives for behaviors you don’t want. And really, why would your cat want any part of your training sessions if it has learned that they can lead to punishment?
Besides teaching your cat a range of useful commands such as sit, stay, and come, you can also teach fun stuff like wave, twirl, and fetch. How exactly to teach these commands, and my cat Cinder’s response to them, will be a topic for another post.
Reprinted from Fall 2015.