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Cats Can Learn Too

IN THE June 25 ISSUE

FROM THE 2011 Articles,
andContributors,
andPets,
andSheryl Wall
SECTIONS

by Sheryl Wall

It is very common to hear people commenting about how independent cats are and that you can’t teach anything to them. Yet, how many people have seen the lion acts at the circus. If you can train a lion, how much easier would it be to train the domesticated cat? They are highly intelligent animals and, when you think about it, we insult their abilities to say they are un-trainable.

I have two cats and have trained both of them. My black and white cat, Hailey, has learned the most and can do many things such as sit, lie down, spin, beg, and weave through my legs. Even my stubborn Siamese, Yoshi, has learned to beg.

Photo by Sheryl Wall

Yoshi

They don’t learn tricks and behaviors just to please you but because they enjoy it and get something out of it. Clicker training is an excellent method to train cats. According to Getting Started in Clicker Training for Cats by Karen Pryor, clicker training can be compared to trading and not so much focused on commanding certain behaviors. This method is very effective on cats and is really easy to teach. A clicker is a small device that makes a clicking noise when you push the button. You use the click to mark the behavior you desire and reward with either food or play time. The click must be made the instant your cat does the behavior you desire or it won’t be effective. If you click just after the behavior you will be rewarding whatever your cat did at the instant you clicked, such as standing still or running off from you.

My cats don’t respond to play as a reward but food is highly effective, so you will have to experiment and see what rewards are highest value for your pet. My cat Hailey is also very picky on what treats are worth her obedience so make sure you start with something high value to begin your training. Try out various treats and see what is the highest value and start there. Remember, if your cat isn’t hungry or ready to play, your teaching will fall on deaf ears so start with a hungry cat. I train in the morning before feeding them their breakfast.

Hailey jumping on command

Karen Pryor, in her book on clicker training, recommends starting off your training with teaching the target. It is one of the easiest to teach and you can use targeting for multiple uses. To target means to teach your cat to touch an object. I use small lids for both my dogs and cats or it can also be helpful to teach them to target a stick. You can also teach commands such as sit, come, and how to walk on the leash.

Many cats love to be social and are involved with activities with their owners such as Agility. It is a fun activity that you can compete in or just enjoy at home and is not just a sport for dogs. They also make great Therapy pets. Some people even prefer visits from cats then dogs in senior homes.

According to Cat Behavior and Training compiled by Lowell Ackerman, training a cat helps us to communicate better with each other which in turn makes a much stronger relationship. It also reduces misbehavior because our cats can better understand the rules expected of them. Another benefit is that it helps keep them safe. If our cat knows how to come when called or respond to their name, it is easier to keep them from running in front of a car or running out the front door.

Hailey begging

If you want to train to build a better bond or simply to keep peace in the home, it is definitely worth the effort. Sometimes it easy to put off or say you don’t have time, but in reality if it’s enough of a priority you can find time in the day to train. I only spend five minutes or less a day before feeding in the mornings. The training has made my cats much more attentive to me and more content. I believe that they look forward to our training sessions because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t continue to be ready to learn.

Cats may take a different approach in training then dogs but they still learn basically the same way. Try it out and see what your cat can learn. The list is endless on what they are capable of.

Sheryl Wall is an ongoing contributor to our
Pet Perspective section, providing pet care advice from years of personal experience.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tara July 6, 2011 at 9:05pm

Good article! I taught one of my cats to jump, go through a small tunnel, sit, and get on a table. It was so fun!

Reply

2 Sheryl July 8, 2011 at 3:27pm

Thanks! That is cool, I don’t know many who have tried teaching their cat, it is a lot of fun

Reply

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