By Carly O’Malley
Senior Pet Care Specialist and Social Media Coordinator – The Good Dog Spot
Ph.D. Student – Animal Behavior and Welfare Group – Michigan State University
Who says cats can’t be trained? Cat owners often let their cats exhibit bad behaviors because they believe it is in the cat’s nature. For example, peeing outside the litterbox. Oftentimes owners think this is a normal cat behavior. Not true. Another example, scratching furniture. Cat owners opt to declaw their cat (which is an inhumane procedure) because they believe cats cannot be trained. Also, antisocial cats who hide when people come over. People think this is normal cat behavior. Wrong. Cats are capable of much more and they absolutely CAN be trained. Cats SHOULD be trained. They are trapped in the house all day with little stimulation. If your cat is exhibiting any of the above behaviors training will help (consult a trainer to further address those issues). Using the same techniques you use with your dog, you can help pull your cat out of his shell and give him more confidence. The mental and physical stimulation will make for a very happy and healthy cat.
Step One: Stop free feeding. Cats do not need constant access to food. Free feeding can lead to cats who overeat. Ever eat just because you are bored? Cats will do that all day long if you let them. Cats who have free access to food are much less motivated. Why should they do anything for you? Everything they need is already provided. Start feeding your cat meals at least twice a day. Your cat will become food motivated. He will begin paying more attention to you and be more willing to work.
Step Two: Start small. First, provide your cat a placemat to sit on at meal times. The first thing you will train is called stationing, which will be asking your cat to sit on a mat (his “station”) before meals. Put the mats down. This part can be pretty easy since cats love sitting on things. Typically you will be standing there with a food bowl as well, so as your cat looks up to you, his bum should land on the mat. When your cat is sitting on the mat, give him his food! Cats will learn this pretty quickly. If you have a vocal cat, we recommend waiting for your cat to be quiet or you’ll create a meowing monster. Once your cat is reliably sitting on the mat for meal times, you can start adding more behaviors to your cat’s repertoire.
Step Three: Get creative! Cats are most easily trained with luring and capturing. Luring is using a food item and getting your cat to follow the food item so you can get them to perform the behavior you want. For example, luring them to spin in place, or to lay down. If you have a dog, you probably lured them into a down when you first trained them. It is the same procedure. Capturing is waiting for your cat to perform a behavior and rewarding them for it. Cats can be clicker trained. Some cats are afraid of the sound of the clicker though, so using a marker word, like ‘YES!,’ or something like a whistle could be another option. If you are training something new or using a clicker, get some yummy treats. Some cats can be really picky, but we find soft, stinky treats are the most appealing to cats. Cheese or different types of meat can also work in small amounts.
You can teach your cat all kinds of things, just like with your dog. As we all know, there are tons of cat videos on the internet, and plenty about cat training (only use positive-training with your cat). Some other ways to mentally and physically stimulate your cat are to buy puzzle feeders to feed their kibble in. Trixie Pet Products has some great puzzle feeders for cats (and can be found on Amazon). Once your cat is sitting on a mat you can roll kibble across the floor. Many cats love the opportunity to ‘hunt’ their food and will jump and chase the kibble. It helps them work on those excellent reflexes. A great resource for cat behavior is the cat behaviorist, Jackson Galaxy (www.jacksongalaxy.com).
Watch Now: Teach Your Cat Basic Commands!