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Maybe your neighbor’s dog has wowed you with incredible tricks, and you’ve found yourself wondering whether Whiskers could do something similar. Maybe your cat has a few bad habits that you’d love to train them out of, but you aren’t sure how. In either case, you’ve asked yourself the question: can cats be trained?
The answer is yes! By keeping a few simple rules in mind, you, and your cat can work together to create fun new behaviors, or reduce negative ones.
Just like dogs, cats can learn to do tricks. Before you begin teaching your cat to lie down and play dead, it’s important to keep in mind that cats don’t have the same innate desire to please humans that many dogs have. Humanity’s been breeding dogs for thousands of years, but we’ve only been breeding cats to be companions for about 200! As a result, cats will often need the promise of a treat, or maybe a favorite toy, in order to work with you. You’ll also need to respect that when a cat is finished, they’re finished. Be willing to work in short increments, and don’t try to force a cat to keep learning after they’ve lost interest, or they’ll start to develop a negative association with learning tricks.
Positive reinforcement is a key element in training your cat. Clicker training can be especially effective. When your cat does the trick, click the clicker, and immediately give your cat a treat. The distinct sound of the clicker will help the cat quickly understand which behavior is the one that results in a treat, and will let him or her know that it’s time to learn.
Reducing Bad Behavior
If your cat won’t stop jumping on counters, or scratching the furniture, there are methods you can use to deter this unwanted behavior. First, it’s important to note that according to Animal Planet’s Jackson Galaxy, it’s impossible to effectively discipline a cat. The cat won’t realize that you’re trying to deter a behavior, and instead will think that you’ve suddenly turned mean. This is why squirt bottles are not an effective training tool, unless you’re trying to damage your relationship with your cat!
To reduce bad behavior, it’s a good idea to figure out why the cat is doing what they’re doing. Are they getting on the counter, because there’s food there, or because they’ll get attention? Try to remove those positive motivators. Make sure there’s no food on the counter, and ignore your cat when he or she does jump up. You can also place a few detriments there that don’t come directly from you, so the cat won’t make that negative association between you, and the detriment. Try putting double-sided sticky tape on the counters, or getting a motion-sensing air canister. Once the motivation is removed—particularly if there’s also now an obstacle in place—many cats will lose interest in the behavior.
When Bad Behaviors are Health Indicators
Some bad behaviors, especially if the cat has only recently started doing them, can indicate a health problem. If your cat has suddenly starting house soiling, even though their litter box is clean and the same as it’s always been, for example, your cat might be experiencing urinary problems. Similarly, a cat who has started meowing constantly might be trying to tell you that they’re in pain. In cases like this, you’re much better off talking to your vet or utilizing proven cat remedies rather than trying to train your cat out of a health-indicative behavior.
In short, cats’ learning styles can be different than dogs. They might need different forms of motivation, and may have less interest in long training sessions. That said, cats are definitely trainable, and training your cat can be a rewarding bonding experience for both of you. With some patience, positive reinforcement, and a few cat treats, training your cat is completely attainable.