Recently there has been a lot of social media attention on cat training- mainly due to a video tutorial featured on The Dodo about how to teach your cat to jump through hoops. I started following Cat School on Instagram after seeing the video, and immediately changed the way I think about my cat, Newman.
Newman lost his brother not too long ago, and the dogs around our home just don’t want to play in the same way. This has meant a significant drop in Newman’s daytime activities and enrichment–it’s just not as fun for him to use the scratching post and catnip toys if he doesn’t have to wrestle another cat for access. Not wanting to see him sad and bored, I started introducing some training games into Newman’s daily routine.
The first step if you want to train a cat (or a dog that seems not that into it) is to cut off continuous access to food. Letting the food sit around in a dish all day attracts unwanted creatures into your house which might be fun for Fluffy to chase, but also it will make working for food not very enticing to your pets. Set strict feeding times and ration the food in correct portions. Cut back on those calories so you can use some of them for training with treats.
Next, if the cat seems to have his own agenda, or pretends to be done with you, go with it. I will just stand up, say, “Fine, Newman, have it your way” and walk away with the treats. After being ignored for about twenty minutes, he usually comes looking for me. That’s when I can really get him to do the tricks we’ve been working on, such as sit, spin and hand targeting.
Once you have motivated your cat, the training goes exactly as it would for a dog. First I teach the behavior with a lure, then I fade the lure into a hand signal, and finally I add a verbal cue.
Also, just like with a dog, when behavior problems arise they are addressed with removal of rewards. With Newman, I am using time-outs for his biting. For him the biting is an attention seeking behavior that he used to employ to get his brother to play, but for the rest of us it is just painful and annoying. Since I started giving him time-outs in the bathroom for biting the dogs’ ears or removing myself from the couch if he bites my fingers while in my lap, the behavior has gone down significantly.
I am still in the early stages of learning more about cat training, but I am finding it easier than I ever imagined. It is also fun and rewarding to see my cat auditioning behaviors alongside the dogs in order to get a treat. Now if only all of my pets could learn to use the vacuum cleaner…..