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Training a pet can add a lot of joy to your household. Everyone knows you can train a dog but felines are often overlooked in this department, leaving people to often wonder, can you train a cat?
While cats might appear to be less responsive than dogs, they are actually very receptive to certain training methods. This is especially the case when you start training in kittenhood. Many people think training a cat is impossible, but that’s simply not true! Cats are curious creatures and can obey complex commands.
Sure, they tout a reputation as being self-sufficient, even downright stubborn sometimes, but don’t let that stop you from trying. Cats can learn tricks. We know that they mirror their owners’ personalities and that they’re more attached to their humans than we give them credit for. They can also walk on a leash. Some even show high levels of interest while going through the training process!
“Cats are not necessarily born meowing and screaming at us for food, it’s a behavior that they learned,” cat behavior specialist Sarah Ellis told NPR’s Terry Gross in a 2016 interview.
But what, exactly, can you train a cat to do? In her book, “The Trainable Cat,” Ellis elaborates how humans can get their cats to come on command, take medicine and even wait until certain times to eat.
Training a cat is surprisingly similar to training a dog. You can teach them several simple tasks like how to come when you call, to stay still while being groomed, to use the litter box or to play fetch with toys. You can also train cats to stay calm while traveling or how to interact with other people or animals.
How Can You Train A Cat?
Here are a few tips from experts on the best ways to make your cat an agreeable student.
Eliminate distractions: Before you start your training session, remove anything that could be distracting to your furry friend. Switch off TVs and radios and try to train in a quiet room.
Be enthusiastic and positive: Essentially, reward what you like and ignore what you don’t. When cats accelerate their undesirable behavior, trying to provoke a response, ignore it. This is really important. You have to maintain consistency in your training. Reward positive behavior with small bites of food, such as a wet cat treat or cooked tuna, to help show them you liked what they did. (Just don’t overfeed them. Account for the extra calories when measuring out their dinner. Training before meals has also shown to be more effective as cats are more receptive when they’re hungry.)
If your cat enjoys brushing, that can also work as a reward. The team at global health company Zoetis says clicker training works for cats as well.
Avoid negative punishment: Cats don’t respond well to punishment. Squirting water or shouting at cats when they’ve done something incorrectly can not only stress them, but it can stress your relationship. If you need to redirect bad behavior, such as scratching furniture, try making a quick, sharp noise or saying the same word each time, like “Whoa!” This is two-fold: It alerts the cat and distracts them from continuing. (Just don’t use a word that’s common in your vocabulary, like “No,” for example, or it will confuse them when they hear it out of context.)
Another tactic is to create an unpleasant situation for the cat. Say if it likes to jump on a certain counter, covering it with double-sided tape might make your cat dislike the experience, reducing the likelihood of it doing it again.
Take baby steps: Train in small increments. The experts at Hill’s suggest keeping each session short and natural.
“Your cat’s attention span is shorter than yours; you can’t expect her to stay interested every time you’re ready to be the trainer,” the company’s website advises. “Let the lesson dictate how long she’s willing to be in your company.”
One trick at a time: Keep your focus on one skill at a time. Any more can overwhelm, making training unproductive. Once the cat has picked up on the trick, you can try teaching something new.
Consistency is key: While rewards can be switched up, commands, signals and cues should always remain the same. The key is to repeat, repeat, repeat.
Practice in different areas: Once your kitty has mastered a command, try practicing in other rooms of your home. In other words, don’t only train in one spot. Train all over. For example, if you’re house training, you’ll want more than one litter box on hand.
Enlist others: If it’s just you and your cat at home, invite a friend or family member over to help. This is particularly useful when trying to acclimate a new cat to your home, teaching it to socialize with others.
Can you train a cat and have fun while doing it? Yes, you can create a bonding experience that’s rewarding to both the animal and the human! Keeping cats’ minds engaged can benefit and nurture their longevity. Starting early is ideal but it’s never too late to begin. Stay patient and positive and you’ll see results.