Training Cats

Pet Tales

by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

Talk about dog training and just about everyone knows what you're talking about. If a dog is to be house trained, walked on a leash, come when it is called, greet others, appropriately, and, in general, display acceptable social behaviour, most people would agree the dog will require some training. These things do not just happen, they're not instinctual. No, some training will definitely be required to achieve those goals. It' a very important part of bringing up a puppy. Why, then, is the concept of training a cat so foreign to everyone's thinking? Are cats not smart enough to learn and be trained? Why are kitty training classes such a rare phenomenon when compared with the popularity of puppy classes? Are cats too un-domesticated to be trained?  Well, it might interest you to learn that some very well recognized behaviour specialists believe there are very good reasons to consider training your cat.

One of them, Dr. Ian Dunbar, a veterinarian, animal behaviourist and writer says,"Cats should be trained for their own safety." He suggests that a cat that is trained to come when called is much easier to catch if it escapes from the house, car or cottage. This means the danger of being lost and possibly being seriously injured is avoided. He believes that training is the means by which we teach the cat the meaning of the words we use.

Contrary to popular belief, cats are very social animals and training will help them to be much more comfortable in the surroundings where they live as pets. Other places where training may be beneficial for cat and owner would include training to use the litter box and training to use a scratching post. Helping a cat to learn to exercise or partake in some physical activity could be another very positive outcome of training. Also many people take great delight with a pet who can perform or do a trick on command. Cats learn by association and anticipation. When two events occur repetitively, they begin to anticipate that one leads to the other. If a cat is rewarded by a food treat each time it runs to its owner, it begins to associate approaching the owner with affection and food treats. It is most likely, therefore, that it will become a more social cat. Cats sometimes have to be taught to accept food treats from the hand. They are less likely to feel comfortable with this action than are dogs, horses and many other animals. When training a cat, a verbal request (command or direction) provides the stimulus to signal the cat, appropriate actions will hopefully be associated with rewarding consequences. This is the sequence that is repeated - request, response, reward - until the desired routine is well established in the cats repertoire.

Punishments have absolutely no place in cat training. It is very ineffective in correcting undesirable behaviour and most unsuccessful as a part of training a cat. Anyone who insists that cats are independent, aloof, or even anti-social either just don't like cats, have had the misfortune of not meeting a socialized kitty or are making excuses for failing to socialize their own cat.Many people have watched and been awed by performances given by large cats, lions and tigers. They are certainly no more intelligent or trainable than our domesticated felines. In fact, our pets resemble them greatly, in many ways. Now I'm not suggesting every cat should be able to jump through a hoop of flames to entertain us, but just imagine the benefits that would flow as a result of bit of commitment to training from cat owners. Cats that are friendly and sociable make a better life for themselves, their owners and society.