Cat Training 101
By Steven Appelbaum
When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them that I own a vocational college specializing in animal-related careers. Upon hearing this, most animal lovers perk up and ask what programs we offer. Of course, they are not surprised to learn we offer a dog trainer program and a grooming course, but most people look at me strangely when I mention cat training.
“Wait, what? Cat training? You can’t train cats, can you? Aren’t they too independent? Besides, even if you can train them, what would you teach them to do, walk on a leash?” they often reply.
I have been hearing sentiments like this for over a decade. In truth, I can understand why some have their doubts about the trainability of cats. After all, when most people think about training a pet, they visualize dog training.
Cats Vs Dogs
Dogs and cats are not the same and are often motivated by different things. Combine that with how popular culture depicts dogs; loyal, trustworthy, loving, dependable family members. Now compare this to how cats are portrayed; aloof, uncaring, slightly manipulative, grumpy and less family than houseguest. It’s a small wonder why the idea of training a cat strikes some as unrealistic or impossible.
Here is the truth: Cats are highly intelligent and are trainable. Once you understand this, you can educate your cat clients about the actual training options available.
So, what can you train a cat to do? Cats can quickly learn to walk on a leash and listen to any basic cue that dogs can. However, the primary focus of cat training is behavior modification.
This includes litter box training or, in some cases, re-training, teaching a cat not to scratch on furniture, dealing with spraying, excessive yowling, and teaching socialization skills so that the cat can accept other cats and even dogs.
Keep It Positive
Not only are cats extremely trainable, but training can and should be done positively. Positive reinforcement of desired behaviors instead of punishing undesirable ones is an effective way of teaching appropriate behaviors while strengthening the bond between pet parents and their cats.
Cats can also be trained to enter and travel comfortably in a crate, which can be a vitally-important skill for them to learn. Unlike dogs who can be leashed and taken to a veterinary hospital, cats need to be crated for transport. Unfortunately, many cats don’t exactly love going to the doctor and quickly associate the crate with a visit to the hospital. Cats that make that connection can be like fuzzy balls of lightning; impossible to catch and transport.
The difficulty in transporting cats is one of the reasons why cat parents don’t take their pets to the veterinarian nearly as much as dog parents. They don’t love them less; they just can’t catch them. Yet most cats can learn to go into a crate on cue and travel in one quite comfortably. This makes it easier for pet parents to take their cat to the veterinarian.
The bottom line is that scratching objects is a strong feline instinct that no one will stop. The key is to teach the cat to scratch on the correct items. Clients with problem scratchers should be encouraged to purchase a quality scratching post. Many scratching posts are simply wood frames with soft fabric coverings. The challenge is that they are often constructed of the same or similar materials as the furniture you wish to stop the cat from scratching. Teaching a cat to scratch on a fabric post but not your fabric chair or couch can be confusing. Instead, suggest a post made of woven Sisal. This material is durable and won’t give the cat a conflicting scratching message.
You can reward the cat’s scratching on the post with praise and treats, and even consider the careful application of catnip around the post to stimulate interest in it further.
For cat parents experiencing any litter box issues, suggest they take their cat to the veterinarian to rule out any health problems. Make sure all clients have enough litter boxes for their cats. Generally, one litter box per cat plus one extra is a good rule of thumb. So, one cat has two litter boxes; two cats have three. Keep the litter boxes clean, which means cleaning them at least once per day. Next, consider the locations of the boxes. Sometimes owners move litter boxes without thinking about the impact of that change on their cats. Ideally, litter boxes should be in a quiet, safe location, typically away from highly-trafficked areas and playful dogs or children. Another thing to consider is cat litter. Some parents change brands frequently, which can be problematic to sensitive cats. Once you find a litter that the cat seems to like, it is best to stick with it.
Solutions like this can assist your cat clients in living their best lives with their feline friends. In addition, consider locating a cat trainer you can refer clients to if they are still having challenges.
Steven Appelbaum is a professional animal trainer and founder of Animal Behavior College (ABC), a vocational school specializing in animal career training programs. ABC offers courses for people interested in becoming pet groomers, dog trainers, cat trainers, veterinary assistants, aquatics management specialists and zookeeper assistants. Aside from managing ABC, Appelbaum works as a freelance author, lecturer and pet business consultant. For more information about Animal Behavior College, please visit the website at www.animalbehaviorcollege.com