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Training Cats

Statistics show that there are more pet cats then there are dogs. Many cat owners enjoy doing things with their cats, as much as dog people enjoy sharing activities with their dogs. Yet few cat owners are aware that cats can be trained to do all types of tricks and activities. A cat owner can teach their cat to jump through hoops, over obstacles, to climb through things and do tricks such as roll over. Cats can be taught to do the unique things that they like to do, such as pounce, swat things, and even retrieve objects.

Training a cat is similar to training dogs in some respects, yet in other ways it is quite different. The secret to training a cat is to understand the key points about cat behavior that differ from dog behavior. To begin with, force-training methods do not work with cats. Many dog trainers,
when pressed, will admit that they resort to pinch collars, shock collars and other punishment devices. Although dog trainers will insist that these methods are not cruel and do not punish or coerce, the bottom line is that these methods will not work on an animal such as a cat. (Which is evidence that these methods are not nice.) Training cats must be a 100% positive motivation method, which is totally gentle and kind.

Some simple rules for training cats are:

1) Never try to wake a cat up for training. They will not cooperate.

2) If the cat is allowed to free feed, put them on a feeding schedule and
then train before feeding time.

3) Keep the training session very short, 3 to 5 minutes at a time.

4) Use food or a play toy or a good scratch or pat as a reward.

5) Do not try to train a cat before its nap time.

Dogs are often curious and focused on their owner. They want to see what their person is doing and where they are going. Many cats could not care less, so cats must be given a reason to pay attention to their owner. That reason can be a toy, food, or a special scratch or pat that the cat likes.

The best way to train a cat is to use shaping methods. Here is an example of a shaping method: let us assume that you, the owner, want to teach the cat to jump onto your shoulder from the back of a couch. Start by putting the cat on the back of the couch. Then tease the cat with a treat to keep the cat on the back of the couch. The cat may need to associate being on the back of the couch with getting the treat to be convinced that it needs to stay on the couch. Next, let the cat have a crumb of the treat, then lure it onto your shoulder with the treat. Luring the cat to your shoulder may have to progress in steps. The first step may be to get the cat to reach for the treat by putting its paws on your arm. Next the cat may reach with its paws to your shoulder, but not jump up. Then you may have to lower your shoulder almost level with the top of the couch to get the cat to jump onto the shoulder. The, have the cat jump a little bit further, until the cat will go to the back of the couch and jump onto your shoulder. Each step of the way, give the cat a reward, which is either a crumb of a treat or a chance to swat at a special toy.

The secret to training cats is that the owner must be inventive and find what the cat likes. That becomes the reward worth working for. Keep in mind that the "special" reward should only be obtainable when the cat is in training. If the cat has free access to the reward, the cat will not do things to earn that "special" reward.

One of the very best ways to train a cat is to use the clicker method of training. This works very well with both dogs and cats. A simple explanation of clicker training is that the cat is conditioned to understand that the click from the clicker means "YES! That is what I want." The clicker becomes a substitute for the reward. The advantage is that the cat can be clicked from anywhere in the room. So if the cat does something that the owner wants to add to the cat’s bag of tricks, all that is necessary is to click the behavior and reinforced it. Once the
cat understands what this means, the cat will enjoy learning and working with its owner.

Cat owners should not hesitate to enjoy doing things with their cat. The sky is the limit. To find out more about training cats check with a local cat store or purchase a clicker training book for cats. See the book section of this web site.


Copyright 2001 Susan Bulanda. All Rights Reserved.