Cats are known for their independence and self-reliance, so the idea of training one may seem impossible. Fortunately, it isn’t. It may take a longer amount of time to teach your cat to do certain things; however it can certainly be done with a few tips. In this article, James Wellbeloved gives a guide on the general do’s and don’ts of how to train a cat, so that you both get the best out of play time.
From an early age, kittens are massively inquisitive and will approach new situations with strong curiosity. It is important for the kitten to be socialised from their youth as this will ensure that they are comfortable with unfamiliar things. This will make training in the future much easier for the cat, as they will be more accustomed to changes in their environment and different experiences. Socialising can be done at home by introducing your kitten/cat to different types of people (genders, ages etc), other animals which are already socialised, and taking your kitten/cat into different spaces (a garden, different rooms of the house). All this can help your pet to be trained more easily and more sociable with others.
When starting to train your cat it is important to know which the best reward system is. Food typically works best when trying to motivate your pet, for example, by using small treats after each successful activity. Other rewards include clicker training, play and stroking as useful incentives to reinforce the correct reactions. The amount of time you spend training your cat will produce different results. It is best to train your cat in short sessions as their attention span isn’t the same as other animals. Small bursts of teaching will maintain your pet’s efforts and are less likely to confuse them whereas lengthier sessions will be tiring and difficult. Make sure that your sessions of training are consistent and at the best time. If your cat is hungry while they are being trained, they are more likely to focus only on getting food and may be more easily frustrated if their behaviour is not rewarded with food. The best time is probably a couple of hours before or after a meal, so they aren’t too hungry to focus properly, but are still interested in the food. Also, the sessions should be held at a similar time each day, so it makes it easier to maintain consistent progress.
An indication to help your cat understand what actions are right or wrong is the use of verbal markers. If you have a cat that likes to climb on top of counters or shelves and push things off, try to remove this opportunity by ensuring that items are out of reach, or shelves are inaccessible. If your cat does climb on surfaces that you don’t want them to access, distract them away from the area and play with them instead. Similarly, you should teach your cat to learn to play with toys instead of your hands. Letting your cat bite and scratch your hands teaches them bad habits and will lead to negative behaviour when they are playing with other people. For example, if a child plays with a cat and the cat bites their hand, this can cause injury and may make the cat seem vicious. However, as the cat has never been taught not to do this; they don’t know that they have done something wrong. It’s important to bear in mind that cats don’t learn from punishment. Cats are unable to make a connection between an action and a punishment, so punishing your pet with water spray for scratching the furniture will not teach them not to do it again – and should never be used on your cat. Whilst positive reinforcement such as treats or affection are useful, the best ‘punishment’ for your cat is to ignore them and walk away.
When handling your cat make sure they are comfortable, and you are holding them the correct way. Cats generally don’t tolerate being held in an uncomfortable position so if you pick them up in a certain way they will learn to associate being picked up with being in discomfort. This means that when it comes to visits to the vet or grooming, your cat will be more reluctant and difficult to be handled. The correct way to hold a cat is to put one hand under their body, behind the front legs. Use your other hand to support their hindquarters to support their legs and bottom. Then gently lift your cat and hold them against your chest. Their head and paws should not be too close to your face. You should always take this process slowly, and be gentle with your cat throughout to reassure them, taking care to use a soft, calming voice. Not all cats like being handled and if you have a cat that dislikes being picked up, let people know before they try. If you are unsure on how to correctly pick up or hold your cat, ask a vet for advice.
Although training a cat can sometimes be difficult, there are benefits to be gained from teaching them certain commands. To start, the inquisitive nature of a cat often means that they disappear for hours on end. If your cat knows that a whistle or a call from you means they should come home, they are less likely to go missing. Further, socialising a rescue cat to bond with humans and not to scratch or bite means that they are much more likely to be adopted, giving them a chance at a happy life with a new owner. Similarly, if you had to leave your cat with an unfamiliar person whilst on holiday you can rest assured that they will behave properly. Above all, your cat’s space and independence should be respected so that they can be trained in the best way for them. If you are looking for help training your cat, a vet or an expert in the field should be able to advise.