Can cats be trained to do things?
What! Training and cats in the same sentence? We all know that cats are independent, can even sometimes be just a touch aloof, and interact with us on their terms. How can such royal pets be trained? Many just assume a cat cannot be trained to perform even simple tasks.
Cats are actually able to learn some basic tasks, but understanding their psychology is important. Cats respond to praise very well, and will learn tasks that bring them a suitable reward. They also have short attention spans; fetching a Frisbee® or stick might keep a Labrador retriever engaged for a whole afternoon, but a typical feline play or training session might continue for 5 to 10 minutes. Playing “catch the furry toy ball” is of real interest to cats, and this is one simple game that can benefit the cat by increasing their exercise and is of high entertainment value. To reinforce their fetching behaviour, a food treat and praise (words, and petting) can be given each time they return the toy. For some cats, the food treat might sidetrack them, so for these cats, just praise and the next toy toss will suffice. Start with short distances and give rewards each time the cat cooperates. Make play sessions very short so that they are less likely to get bored and march off. End the session as soon as you see the first hint of tiring out.
Cats can be taught to relieve themselves using the household human facilities if the owner wishes. Some cats do not appear to take to toilet training, but most can be successfully trained with a lot of patience. The cat appreciates the clean facility, but may balk a bit because they were taught by their mother to scratch their stool into sand, litter or soil. Obviously, young cats that have not yet got in the habit of going in the box for a long period are easier to transition but cats have been trained even after maturity. One can purchase special potty training kits for cats, but a homemade system works just fine too. Start by putting the box near the toilet. After a few weeks, start to raise it gradually stepwise off the floor, using a solid support system (you don’t want the cat to jump in and have it fall off the support and spook him!), and continue this for a few weeks. Finally, place the box on the toilet (lid up, seat down) and when this is comfortable, you are ready to start with the human toilet surface. Take a heavy-duty foil turkey roaster pan, and securely tape it under the seat onto the toilet base. Initially, put a bit of litter in the bottom of the pan under the seat hole. As he gets used to this, you can place a progressively larger hole in the tray, until he needs to stand on the toilet seat. Always leave the seat lid up so he can get at his facility!
Leash training is another skill that takes some patience, but if you are planning to offer your cat fresh air, going for a walk is an excellent way for them to get some exercise, and for you to ensure that they do not get into trouble with strays, or cars etc. Using a well-fitted harness is more secure, and will prevent him from slipping a collar or stressing the neck if the cat decides a sudden dash is in order! Some owners even teach their cat to walk along at the same time as the dog goes for a walk. Remember to keep the walks short, and praise the cat when they move forward when you call their name or another cue such as “walkies”. Leash training is more easily done in kittens than with adults. If the cat appears to have tired, it is OK to pick them up to help them home! Don’t expect the cat to stay neatly by your side (as you would with a trained dog). They will want to meander a bit, and may make periodic stops to gnaw a bit of grass. A walk with a cat is not a cardiovascular workout, but rather more of a parambulation!
Your veterinarian will likely have some excellent basic pet training books, and sometimes they will allow clients to sign these out. Even if they focus on dog training, the basic principles are similar.
Reprinted with permission from www.animalhealthcare.ca