YES! YOU CAN TRAIN A CAT
By Patrick and Mollie Hogan
You may have heard that cats cannot be trained but nothing is further from the truth.
It’s true that most cat species are solitary. They don’t hunt cooperatively or live in packs like canids and they aren’t really looking for a leader. However, feral domestic cats will form colonies with definite hierarchies and several cats kept in the same home may exhibit similar behavior. In essence, domestic house cats never really grow up. They retain infantile relationships with their caretakers into adulthood and tend to view humans as their mother or sibling. For this reason they are very receptive to proper instruction and guidance.
Believe it or not, you can actually train your cat…To come when called, walk on a leash, use the scratching post and litter box, to cooperate for transport and medical treatment, to stick close to home, and to get along with other pets and humans. You can even train your cat to do tricks for treats!!
USING POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE REINFORCMENT
Positive Reinforcement-- is always the best training tool. Praise and pet your cat or reward your cat with a treat when he is behaving correctly. This will let the cat know that he is doing the right thing and will reinforce the behavior. Cats are very clean and spend much of their time licking their fur and grooming. Brushing can strengthen the bond with your pet and encourage him to be more responsive (while keeping the hair off you and the furniture too!)
Negative Reinforcement—Any negative actions must be brief and to the point.
Remember that small cats are prey as well as being predators so they can easily become frightened ---A squirt gun or spray bottle can interrupt unwanted behavior without using physical force. One squirt, a handclap or a loud “NO!” should work wonders to discourage your feline friend. Remember that timing is everything. To be effective, this type of reinforcement should be implemented at the very beginning of the unwanted behavior. For example if you want to discourage your cat from jumping up on the kitchen counter the squirt or loud hand clap should occur while the cat is just beginning his upward launch.
BEVAVIORAL PROBLEMS can stem from poor physical health so before you begin training, make sure that your cat is in excellent physical shape by providing routine examinations by a qualified veterinarian. All cats should be vaccinated, spayed, or neutered. Three of the most common problems that cat owners experience are:
1) soiling areas in the house outside the litter box 2) aggression between cats in the same household, and 3) scratching the furniture instead of the scratching post. These behavioral problems are primarily exhibited by cats that are kept exclusively indoors.
Cats are extremely territorial. The wild ancestors of the domestic cat –the European and African wildcat—stake out territories as large as ten square kilometers. Similar size requirements also apply to feral domestic cats living out in the wild. Cats that are kept indoors are asked to accept smaller territories than they would naturally claim in the wild. This limitation can sometimes cause cats to defend and mark their territory.
Cats love to roll in the dirt and grass, to stalk bugs, eat plants and leaves and soak up some rays. Fresh air, vitamin D, and stimulation from the natural world can contribute greatly to the mental and physical health of any cat. However, the great outdoors can be an enriching but dangerous environment for your pet. Natural predators, road traffic, toxic substances and disease should all be guarded against. For your cat’s safety it is best to provide supervised or protected outdoor time. This will also help the native bird population by preventing your cat from attacking inappropriate prey! You can teach your cat to walk on a leash or an enclosed outdoor space can also be provided. It is an absolute necessity to teach your cat to come when called.
Scratching to mark territory is a natural cat behavior. Cats need their claws to satisfy this instinctive need. They also like to climb trees to get a better view and to be safe from predators. Some people resort to declawing cats to prevent unwanted scratching. Declawing is an inhumane practice and a painful procedure that causes irreversible damage to any cat’s feet. Every cat that is declawed experiences some level of discomfort and when animals are in pain other behavioral problems can result. Sometimes indoor cats will scratch the furniture or even a human accidentally. Fortunately, cats can easily be taught to scratch only on appropriate surfaces using positive and negative reinforcement techniques.
PATIENCE, PRACTICE AND CONSISTENCY
One of the most common errors in the world of animal training is a failure to allow the subject enough time to learn the desired behavior. And just as the animals have to learn how to respond to what the trainer is asking, the trainer has to also learn how to teach his subject. Patience, practice and consistency are by far the greatest training tools—so be sure to give yourself and your subject the necessary time needed to achieve success.
*** Cat Business is an extension of The Nature of Wildworks, Inc and provides behavioral training and consulting services for felines and their owners. You can also check out our Wildworks website at www.natureofwildworks.org