Life Lessons for Your Feline Friends

Cats can be trained! There are beneficial behaviors you should consider teaching your cat to perform, not only in an emergency, but also to enrich her day to day life. Some breeds of cats actually excel at positive reinforcement training. Begin early and your pet will be well trained in no time.

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Garima Singhal Three behaviours that you must absolutely train them to do are – to use a designated scratching surface, to be comfortable in a crate, and to come when called.

‘Purr’ks of positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the most effective and fair approach to training a kitten or cat. It is the process of rewarding your cat with something she likes, for doing what you want her to do, such as praise and a treat for coming when you call her. One popular method of training is clicker training, in this method a handheld clicker is used to tell your cat when she’s done something correctly. You just need consistency and a way to tell her when she does the right thing. Consistency means that you and everyone in the household should follow the same rules.

Early start to training

Training should begin as soon as you bring your bundle of joy home. If you have a kitten, begin training right away. Use frequent sessions and remember that their attention span is short, so a few minutes in one session would be ideal. If you have an older cat, sessions can be a bit longer, especially once your cat is used to being trained, but don’t expect even an adult to give you her undivided attention for more than 5-10 minutes at a time. Focus on one behavior in a session and keep it fun. Once you get two or three repetitions, quit for a while and play with her.
Also teach your cat to let you restrain her. This will be very useful for bath times and vet visits and might be critical in an emergency. Begin with short sessions of holding her and slowly increase the duration of time until you can hold her still without a fight for 5 minutes or so. She will learn to trust that you have nothing sinister in mind when you hold her, and that will help you teach her to let you groom and examine her.

It is easier to prevent bad behaviors than to correct them after they have become habits. Training takes time and patience and can be frustrating at times, but the rewards are enormous. If you are getting frustrated, quit for a while. Come back when you are in a better mood. Never every hit your cat. This will simply teach your cat to fear you and damage your relationship, which can never be repaired.

Teachings for life – Three life saving behaviours
Using appropriate scratching surface

Make sure the cat scratchers you provide satisfy both your kitty’s preferred scratching position and surface. They should be placed where they will be used, and not in an obscure corner of your house where the kitty never visits, just because they clash with the décor. Consider putting one near the window that she looks out of and one near the litter-box. Just like the rule with the litterbox for a multi-cat household, there should be one per cat plus one extra scratching post. Cats don’t like to share their scratching territory.

Encourage her to use the scratching post by luring her with a toy with some catnip rubbed on it. Offer praise and treats when she uses it, and if she digs her claws in it. The idea is to make it a fun, pleasant experience each time she uses the scratching post.

 Kudos to crate training

Far too many kitties run and hide the minute they lay eyes on the dreaded contraption. This is because when this device makes an appearance, it dredges up memories of forced confinement, a hair-raising ride in the car and a visit to a place with unpleasant memories of being poked and prodded- the veterinarian. The good news is, the angst associated with vet visits and other outings can be minimized by helping your cat get comfortable with her carrier at home, on her timetable, in a non-threatening manner. Make it a permanent fixture of her environment, set it up in a location that the kitty spends most of her time in.

Place the carrier in a ray of sunlight and place comfy bedding in the carrier, something familiar so that your pet is enticed to use it. Reward her for investigating, or even going close to the carrier. Place her food bowl close to the carrier. If she won’t come close, move it just far enough so that she will come close and eat. Add a special treat on top of her meal to tempt her. Once she starts eating, start moving the bowl closer gradually. Put some of her favorite toys in the carrier. You can even place some catnip in the carrier.

The idea is to associate only pleasant, fun, yummy things with the carrier each time your pet explores it. Once she is hanging out successfully in the carrier, try closing the door for a short time, before she freaks out. Increase the amount of time the door is shut gradually, till she is sitting inside calmly without displaying any symptoms of distress.

Call my name and I’ll come to you

You may not realize it, but your pet probably already comes each time there is any sound related to mealtimes. It could be you putting her bowl down, the sound of the can opener, or any random sound that she associates with mealtimes. It could even be the aroma of the meal being prepared. Since she is answering these calls, you can build on this foundation. Pair calling your cat with something she is already responding to. First you need to decide how precisely you will call her from now on when you want her to come to you. The key is to be consistent. Use the same inflection of sound and same tone of words.

You can also use high value treats to train kitty to come when called. Standing next to her, call her to come and then immediately give him a treat. When it’s obvious she’s made the connection between your call and the yummy treat, you can start increasing the distance. Move a few feet away and call her and when she comes to you, give her a treat. Once this is happening consistently, increase the distance further. If things go according to plan, she will be coming to you from all over the house.

Recipe for successful training sessions

Keep them short
Keep them fun
Keep them interactive
Always reward good behavior
Never punish them for not giving you a desired behavior
Plan several sessions each day to help maintain your cat’s training
The concoction of training your cat should have patience, love, and consistency! And you’ll see in no time training would become fun.
(Garima Singhal is a behaviourist, neurobiologist, school teacher and a long-term pet parent)