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You CAN Train Your Cat!!

It is a common misconception that cats cannot be trained. In truth, cats are highly intelligent and very trainable. Through training your cat many desirable and undesirable cat behaviors can be modified or eliminated. Basic commands such as “down”, “sit” and “come” can be learned.  Performance of tricks, leash training, and even agility can be taught. However, in training your cat there are a few key factors you must keep in mind.

First and foremost, you must remember that cats are not dogs. Dogs, like humans, are highly social and function according to a “pack” mentality. There is a social order in which each individual has its place within the group. There is a sense of loyalty, belonging, and compliance. Cats on the other hand, are solitary creatures who often choose to live in groups but it is not a necessity. They are not pack animals so there is no desire to comply with anyone’s wishes but their own. Therefore, motivation of these two species is entirely different.

Reward based training, or positive reinforcement, is the key to training your cat. (Treats!) A cat must learn that a good thing will happen for a particular action. Pick your cat’s most desirable treat for training. Never use punishment as a form of “training” for your cat. Negative reinforcement will only stress your cat leading to avoidance and potential behavioral problems such as litter box issues and compulsive grooming.

In training your cat attempt one task or trick at a time and practice, practice, practice. Keep training sessions brief – 10-15 minutes per session. It usually takes between 5 and 20 repetitions for a cat to connect an action to a reward. Timing is of utmost importance. As soon as your cat performs the desired behavior, reward him! Because timing is so important many prefer to “clicker” train their cats. The “click” of the device marks the desired action the instant that it occurs.

If you choose to use a clicker you must first pair it to the reward (treat). To do this have the cat perform a simple task, adding a “click” at the time of action, followed immediately by a treat. Eventually the “click” becomes its own reward and you will be able to cut back on, or eliminate, treats given for training sessions.