Tricks, clickers, commands… Isn’t it just for dogs?
Contrary to popular belief, cats can be trained to tricks. You can teach children both practical and entertaining activities. You can even train them to compete in agility events.
Of course, there are differences in how cats and dogs are trained. Cats, unlike dogs, are less likely to be motivated by praise. Cats are also less naturally driven to work with their human companions. But it doesn’t mean they won’t become famous in the future. Your cat will astonish you with the things he can learn if you apply the right techniques and a little creativity on your part.
Remember that cats respond to positive reinforcement, not negative punishment.
Cats can only be taught new behaviors through positive, reward-based training. Punishment and dominance are neither healthy nor effective strategies. “Punishment promotes stress, and stress is one of the most prevalent causes of behavioral problems in cats, including eliminating outside of the litter box and compulsive grooming,” according to the ASPCA website. With that in mind, here are some initial steps:
- Snacks, but not just any snacks, are the most potent reinforcers. Jane Harrell, senior producer at Petfinder and a long-time cat foster mom, adds, “My foster cats enjoy training with me.” “However, they will not work for free. They’re looking for nasty, gooey, mushy treats.” Jane and her foster parents are not alone. Many cats require something specific to keep them motivated. This means you should put the kibble back in the cat food bin and go through your cabinets looking for the amazing stuff your cat adores. Diced chicken or turkey, low-sodium tuna, meat-flavored baby food, and commercial cat treats may be useful depending on your cat’s preferences.
- Teach your cat to anticipate rewards in response to specific behaviors. Start with a simple trick to show your cat that good things happen during training sessions.
- Practice, practice, practice… but not too much. Rep this training technique several times until your cat knows why he is being rewarded.
You don’t want to fatigue or bore the cat, but you do want to highlight the link between a certain reward and behavior – as well as the instruction associated with that activity. Catfoodsite.com recommends just practicing one command or trick at a time and keeping practice sessions between 10 and 15 minutes. You should repeat the practice the next day and keep it up on a regular basis to ensure that your cat does not forget what he has learnt.
- Use a clicker to encourage time and, eventually, less treats.
It is vital that your cat is rewarded as soon as she completes the required action, yet many owners struggle to exactly match their rewards with their cat’s behavior. A clicker can help with timing by producing a sound that tells the cat that what they just did was correct. To educate your cat the meaning of the clicker, “charge” it by clicking and treating it without expecting anything in return. Using treats and your clicker, you can teach popular tricks like “down,” “stay,” and “coming.” You now have a tool to assist you in fine-tuning the time of a reward.
- After your cat has mastered the first trick, move on to the next. Your cat will quickly learn that the clicker noise indicates that wonderful things are on their way and that the clicker can be its own reward.” Feel free to be creative, though. You should also consider teaching your cat useful activities like leash walking.
If you’re keen to teach your cat new abilities but are having trouble, look for a trainer in your area. Just make sure he or she has worked with cats before. Also, ensure that everyone you hire believes in positive reinforcement.
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