How to train your house cat – Part 2

If Helium would allow video posts, I would post videos of my cats, Shadow and the Tweeb, coming when they are called, using the scratch pad (pad attached to the wall), and being directed through an obstacle course. Because they do those, and Shadow will give a pretty little high-five and bat her little toy ball on cue, too.

The trick to training a cat is convincing it that listening to you and doing what you want is worth its while, more so than doing what it wants all the time. For basic training, this means giving abundant praise and petting when the cat uses the scratching post, and perhaps a treat if it comes when you call it. This is important, because without the praise, the “punishment” phase of the training becomes meaningless. By “punishment”, I mean either ignoring the behavior altogether, or, if that isn’t possible, a stern “no” and perhaps a squirt from a spray bottle, if the cat is being THAT ornery. By heightening the difference between behaviors it gets praise for, versus those for which it gets yelled at, you will gradually drive the cat to behave in a manner you want it. If you do not exaggerate your responses to the good versus the bad behaviors, or worse, if you only punish the bad behaviors, you will end up with a cat that ignores you at best, and runs away at worst.

Training a cat to sit still for claw clipping is something that requires patience and the willingness to put up with a few scratches until it realizes that claw clipping doesn’t hurt. It may never realize this. But it helps A LOT if you have one special food the cat only receives after its claw clipping, such as a nice chunk of canned tuna (low-sodium). My cats get 1 oz of sardines-the point is that if they LOVE this food, and they ONLY get it after you clip their claws, they will soon learn to tolerate claw clipping. This also serves to demonstrate the power of positive reinforcement-I only clip my cats’ claws once a month, thereabouts, and while they complain (sometimes bitterly), they will not fight, because they know that their reward is completely out of proportion to the discomfort of the clipping session.

As far as training the cat to do tricks, it helps greatly if you feed it meals rather than leave out a bowl of food all the time. If the cat is slightly hungry, it will want to work for the treats that much more. My cats, despite all of my efforts to divert them otherwise, adore kibble, so I use that for training treats. I use the clicker training method to teach tricks, and although it is not the only way to go about training your cat, it is one of the fastest. But even amongst individual cats, there can be differences between how each cat best learns. For instance, I am finding out that Shadow prefers to see the treat and then go and get it, whereas the Tweeb is better at following my cues in the classic clicker training protocols.

Cats a readily trainable, but because they do not have an intrinsic need to please their masters, the way dogs do, training them requires a shift in how you think about animals. Once you understand that, there’s really no limit to what you can get your cat to do.

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