Training Your Cat–Get, Set, Go!
If you return home to ripped blankets or scarves, or have found random bunches of poop in your purse, slippers or bed, know that you are not alone. All feline pet parents would agree to the somewhat moody behaviour of cats.
Have you ever been distracted or annoyed by your pet’s antics? For example, many cats meow over and over and over when it’s mealtime. The only way to calm them is to feed them. The result – Kitty learns persistent meowing delivers results. Other cats get on the bed first thing in the morning, jump back and forth, and might start scratching. They do this not just for fun, but as a behaviour pattern. It is to obtain your attention and breakfast. As a result, pet parents finally feed the cat. The cat learns her crack of dawn shenanigans deliver results.
Patience is the key to training
Hence, it’s obvious that cats can and do learn behaviours to achieve certain goals. If you have an interest in training your feline family member, you’d be happy to know that they can be trained. Cats very well understand cause and effect, and if taught with patience and perseverance, the training will be successful.“Any cat can be effectively trained,” shares Dr Elise Robertson, a feline specialist at Amber Cat Vet. The ease and effectiveness of training depends on certain factors – age, personality, and past experiences. Cats can even be trained to do agility and tricks. If you can find what motivates your feline, nothing is too difficult.
Before you begin, know that cats don’t learn from punishment or scolding. Negative reinforcement will have a negative effective on your bond with your pet.
Choose the right tools
Cats respond best to reward-based training methods. You can use a clicker to mark the good behaviours. The concept is simple: the clicker is used to mark a desired behaviour at the precise second the behaviour is performed, followed immediately by a treat.It is very important that the clicker be used ONLY to mark behaviour that is elicited out of them on command, or desirable behaviour. Random, playful or absent-minded clicking will reduce the effectiveness of the clicker. Some kitties are shy and timid and might be afraid of the sound of the clicker, so it is important to work this out before starting your training regime.
Choose the right reward
For some cats, food is the best motivation. If your pet is a foodie baby, then you’re lucky. Use very tiny treats, or small portions of food as treat. It is best to hold training session before feeding time as she’s going to be hungry and will pay more attention to you being lured by the reward.Some kitties are motivated by play sessions or toys and you can introduce these in your training sessions. Use her favourite ones or new ones that she is happy to work for. Interactive toys or wands are most useful.
Kittens are most receptive to training and learning new things between the age of 8 weeks to 15 weeks. They must have had all their shots by then and at this age, they are open to learning new things and bonding with other cats, kittens, and humans. Starting early when it comes to training helps the kitten learn social skills.
A lot of pet parents fret over crate/carrier training. But it’s an imperative part and needs to be imparted at the right age.
- Initially set the carrier (with bedding) in a quiet and comfy area of your home.
- Keep the door open. The kitten may be curious enough to go in and out on their own and explore it. If not, entice them with food, place their food bowl close to the carrier. Once she is eating without hesitation, move the bowl closer and closer but at a pace that is comfortable for your pet.
- Next place the bowl right at the entrance of the carrier and when the kitty eats from the bowl, give her a treat. Following this, next time place the food bowl inside the carrier, and reward them for eating out of the bowl. Also place some of your pet’s fun, favourite toys or treats inside the carrier. The idea is to make as many positive associations with the carrier as possible.
- Move the bowl and toys a few inches backwards everyday till it is at the back of the carrier. Once the kitty is feeling comfortable in the carrier, try closing the door of the carrier, for a few seconds at first and rewarding her for being calm, and then gradually increasing the time that the door remains shut.
- You can progress to bringing her on short car drives. She has to get used to the frequent car drives. All of this is critical for the proper socialisation of the kitten.
Some important commands
- Go to – If you make a positive connection to a bed, comfy space, a carrier or a designated area, she is more likely to hang out there than be a menace under your feet all day long, or on the kitchen counter, dining room, and work desk, etc.
- Sit – Teaching your kitty ‘sit’ will be greatly helpful. Whether you lure her with her favourite treats or a small pat, teaching her sit is important.
- Targeting – It is a very useful behavioural skill that you should teach your pet. This encourages the kitty to go to a target, which helps her approach new people and situations cautiously. At the veterinarians, you can use targeting to move the kitty to desired area and help form an association with the staff there.
There might be ups and downs during the journey, some scratches and cuts as well. But then, as a responsible pet parent you want your pet to show their best behaviour. So take it slow, start early, and have lots of patience when it comes to training cats.
(Garima Singhal is a behaviourist, neurobiologist, school teacher and a long-term pet parent of her pooch Dobie).