Can Cats be Trained?
Posted on May 29, 2013 by WayCoolCats
In regard to the question, “Can cats be trained?”, there is a belief held by a great many people that dogs are trainable but cats are not. Not only is this thought to be true amongst the non-cat owning public, it is even embraced by cat lovers.
Anyone who owns a cat knows that they are intelligent, inquisitive beings. Yes, they often do things on their terms, but when they want something, they generally are smart enough to figure out exactly how to get it. Yet the myth that cats can’t be trained still remains. Why? Can cats be trained?
Part of the problem has to do with images we have all seen since childhood. Stories and images abound of selfless dogs risking life and limb to rescue people from all sorts of perilous circumstances. Lassie, Rin Tin Tin and a host of other dogs come to mind. Any kitties?
Not hardly. Instead, there is the image of a new dog owner trying to teach their large Golden Retriever to walk down the street. We can easily picture this person being dragged by the eager orange puppy and the need to teach this dog to walk properly for everyone’s safety.
Can you visualize doing the same with a cat? Plus even if you can teach a cat to walk or listen to other obedience type commands (AKA “cues”) most cat owners will almost always inquire as to why they would bother?
Can cats be trained?
The first issue is for pet owners to grasp what it means when we say “training”. Most people associate this word to mean teaching of specific commands or cues. These include stay, heel, come, down etc. This is sometimes referred too as obedience training and it is here where we lose a good many cat owners. That’s because many see little value in expending the effort and time to teach their cats what they consider “tricks”. However and this is a key point, obedience training is only one type of training and not the most relevant one for our feline friends.
Cats can be trained to use a litter box, be more accepting of people, to stop spraying and scratching up your couch, they can learn to accept other cats as friends and believe it or not some can even….gasp….learn to like and accept dogs in their home.
Very critically, cats can be conditioned to ride comfortably and with less stress in a cat carrier. The last one is of special importance given the number of cats whose owners put off taking them to the veterinarian because it is so hard to get them in the carrier.
One of the biggest keys to training is motivation and here too we lose many people especially when they compare cats to dogs. That’s because as we all know dogs are often motivated by a desire for praise. Cats usually don’t often have that reputation.
We have also heard the descriptions of feline temperaments. These include aloof, independent etc. Those owner perceptions cause numerous cat owners to wonder how/if they can train a cat especially considering that methods used to train dogs which are often the only ones people know about may prove ineffective or irrelevant with cats.
Motivation and training for cat training
Recently I spoke with Ms. Teoti Anderson, a trainer with 16 years experience and during the discussion I asked her about motivation and training. Her response is spot on. “Dogs and cats learn by reinforcement and punishment. If doing something is rewarding to them, they will probably do it again. If doing something is unpleasant for them, they are likely to avoid doing it again.”
While that might seem obvious to some, it is at the core of every successful training program. Cats might find different things rewarding to them than dogs but that doesn’t mean they can’t be rewarded and can’t learn. Instead of a scratch behind the ear or tossing a stick, both of which will send the typical Golden Retriever into bliss yet earn you a blank stare or contempt with many cats, try a catnip toy or a delectable treat.
Bio: Steven Appelbaum is the founder and President of Animal Behavior College, the largest animal career vocational school of its kind in North America. The school offers certified courses for dog training, veterinary assistants and pet groomers. Steve has been a professional animal trainer for more than 30 years and is the author of the book “The ABC Practical Guide to Dog Training.” He is a lecturer, consultant and a member of the Love That Dog Hollywood podcast team.
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