Training

Can cats be trained? Should they be?

Most of us imagine animal training to be only for dogs. The image of someone training a cat to sit, walk on a leash, or perform tricks seems unlikely. Cats are known for their independence. Also, cats are not as motivated as dogs to perform tasks for their owner’s praise. Other stimuli such as treats or petting can motivate cats to obey their owner’s commands. These tools of positive feedback can be useful in teaching cats to do various activities.

cat-dog-brain-gears-1.2Cats have been shown to be receptive to training under certain conditions. Still, cat owners must realize that the approach to training will be very different than for dogs. Cats are special animals that must be treated according to their natural temperament. Then, you can proceed with training and enjoy a whole new level of interaction with your cat.

scolding-cat-1.2You can train cats most effectively by using positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement or punishment should never be used when training cats. If you punish your cat during training, the cat can become uncooperative in future training interactions. In general, cats are less motivated by the trainer’s reaction/praise than dogs are. If negative feedback is given to the cat, the cat is likely to stop any previous efforts to please the trainer. Receiving praise was not a high motivating factor for the cat to begin with. So, to strengthen the cat’s willingness to obey your commands, you should only use positive feedback.

cat-clicker-1.2The various types of positive training reinforcement can include food treats, clickers, catnip, toys, petting, etc. Using a clicker can help your cat understand positive feedback, without too many extra calories in treats. If you do not have a clicker device, you can use a pen that clicks open and shut. Any characteristic noise that your cat will associate with good behavior can be used.

cat-in-litter-box-2.2Litter box training is the most common type of training activity for cats. Owners usually prefer to train their cat early on to use the litter box. Because cats are naturally clean animals, they generally learn quickly to eliminate in the litter box. To train a cat to use the litter box, try confining the cat in a room with food, water, and the litter box for a few days. Play with the cat in this room, and make sure the cat does not leave the room. After a few days of being confined to this room, the cat will naturally go to the litter box for elimination. Cats have a natural tendency to want to bury their waste. So, if the cat has an accident outside of the litter box, place the waste in the litter box. The smell will indicate to the cat that the litter box is the correct place to eliminate. If it takes more than a few days for the cat to begin using the litter box regularly, try changing the brand of litter. Sometimes cats can have a preference for one scent over another. Again, only use positive reinforcement in training your cat. Otherwise, the cat can become unreceptive to training completely.

cat-scratching-poleIf a cat is doing something bad, such as scratching a piece of furniture, try to use distraction. Provide the cat with an appropriate scratching post. When the cat uses this post instead of your furniture, praise the cat and give positive feedback, such as a treat. Make sure that the cat has plenty of toys and activities. Engage your cat in playful games using the cat’s toys. This can help prevent mischievous behavior that can destroy your valuable belongings. If the cat is becoming aggressive or playing too roughly with you, simply leave the room. This shows the cat that biting or scratching will end the play session immediately. Do not ever hit the cat as punishment. It is essential to remember that hitting or yelling loudly at the cat will not do any good. This negative feedback will only make any existing bad behavior even worse.  Positive feedback for good behavior is the only way to make progress in training a cat.

clapping-1.2Occasionally, a cat may not respond well to positive feedback and may continue to misbehave. For example, a cat may continue to jump on countertops even if you distract them and reward good behavior. In some cases like this, a light “punishment” may help persuade the cat to stop the bad behavior. Squirting a bit of water from a spray bottle or clapping your hands loudly to startle the cat are two examples of appropriate light punishments. Again, the negative feedback should never be harsh or too severe. Cats do not respond well to negative feedback. So, techniques like spraying water at the cat should only be used as a last resort.

giving-cat-treat-2.2Even then, these negative feedback techniques should be combined with positive reinforcement. That is, if you must spray the cat to get them off your counter, follow it up with a treat when the cat moves to the couch. This will help to make sure your cat does not get resentful or start to mistrust you. The goal of training your cat should be to help foster a trusting relationship with your cat.

cat-cafe-6.2Cats are not traditionally “trained.” Still, training your cat can help you interact with your cat better. If you have the time and energy to devote to your cat’s training, this can provide a good way to spend time with your cat. Working on teaching your cat to behave well and even perform tricks can be a process. But this process of training allows you to interact with your cat in ways that simply playing with the cat might not. Training your cat can be a challenge. But with enough positive feedback and dedication, you can succeed. Your cat will respond to your training efforts based on their personality and temperament. By studying your individual cat’s behavior, you can tailor your training approach to the cat’s specific needs. Training your cat can be a rewarding process, if you keep your focus on positivity.

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