Many believe that cats can’t be trained, because they don’t respond to calls and behavior like dogs do. But that’s far from being true. Cats do respond to training, and it’s absolutely possible to teach them behavioral and novelty tricks.
Before starting out though, it’s important to remember that cats and dogs train very differently. Cats are less likely to be motivated by praise, and are not built to work in partnership with humans. However, with these tips in mind, you can pamper, pet, and train your feline friend.
1. The Best Reinforcements To Use Are Treats
Cats can only be taught new behavior with positive, reward-based training. When it comes to treats, they need something special to motivate them. Throw out the regular cat food and bring out the good stuff—diced meat, tuna, or flavorful cat treats.
For example, when training your cat to sit, start out by making sure you have their attention, by holding the treat right at their nose. Once they begin to sniff it, move it slowly in an arc—from the nose, just over the head. Many cats will follow this motion with their eyes and nose, and as their chin goes up and back, they will sit down. The moment they do that, offer the special treat.
2. No Punishments, Please
Cats respond very poorly to punishment—a punished cat is likely to just run away and hide. Depending on your cat’s temperament, it can also frighten them. Punishment creates stress and can compromise their immune system, making them more vulnerable to disease. Start with a simple trick like a ‘high five’ followed by a treat to show your cat that good things will happen during training sessions.
3. Use A Clicker Or A Bell
A clicker or a bell can make training easier and faster. The instant your cat does the required behavior, click or ring the bell and then offer a treat. This helps the cat know when they have done something right.
For example, when training your cat to shake hands, get a treat ready and get yourself to the same level as your cat. Tap their paw while saying ‘shake’, and then use the clicker when they moves the paw. Repeat training until they offers the paw in response to the command, without tapping.
4. Keep A Vocal Clue
Start by making a distinct sound before feeding—call your cat, or click your tongue. Your cat will soon learn to associate that noise with something positive (food), and will head to you when they hear it. Encourage this behavior outside feeding times. Choose a good spot, stand a foot or two away, and give your verbal clue. Reward your cat immediately, if they obey. Walk away, and then repeat the exercise. Eventually, your cat will start to turn towards you when you give the cue. Gradually, increase the distance.
5. Choose The Right Time
Train at a time when your cat is motivated to work. If you’re going to reward them with treats, have sessions before meal time; if you are going to use toys, train when they are energetic and ready to play.
6. Be Persistent
Although all training needs practice, it is best to divide it into shorter breaks through the day. Repeat the training process several times in a row, daily. A command or trick at a time, and sessions of 10 to 15 minutes, should work. Doing this will ensure that your cat learns why they are getting rewarded, without wearing out. Some training methods could last for days.
For example, when training your cat to walk on a leash, first get a harness with a leash that doesn’t attach to their neck, but to the back. Keep it out for a few days in areas such as your cat’s favorite sleeping spot, so that they get used to the sight of it. Next, try draping the harness over the cat, without attaching it, when giving a treat. Then, gradually move to putting the harness on them for a few minutes, and keep increasing the time every few days. Once they are comfortable with the harness, attach the leash and let the cat wander freely. Make sure your cat is absolutely comfortable with the leash, before taking it outdoors.
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