Cats can be trained
Special to the Tribune
Like all pets, cats can be trained. and training is needed for their safety as well as mental exercise. By observing how your cat has trained you, the secret is revealed.
Cats use operant conditioning on their people and humans respond with positive reinforcement every time they are poked in the face or meowed at to awaken, get out of bed and fill the food bowl.
Most often, the cat’s favorite food treat is all that’s needed as a basic training tool. Although positive reinforcement training of a cat is similar to training a dog, less repetition and more affection usually gets the desired results. Starting with a kitten is easier but for an older cat simply add more patience. All cats can be trained.
Coming When Called
Without thinking about it, most cat owners train their cats to the sound of a can opener or rustle of a food bag. Just add the word “come,” “kitty kitty,” or a name to broaden the association with the promise that when you call a reward is coming. Some say that cats respond well to names ending with a long “ee” sound like Louie, Sadie or Kitty.
Practice calling your cat at random times and in different locations. Talk to your cat and reward each time with affection, play and/or treats so he or she responds reliably. In an emergency it could save your pet’s life.
Unfortunately, surveys repeatedly show that the hassle of getting the cat into a carrier is a common reason cats don’t see the veterinarian when needed. Tragically, cats are left behind in times of disaster because their owners could not get them into a carrier fast enough. Crate training is critical for emergency evacuation.
For experienced cats, the crate or cat carrier most often is associated with a dreaded trip to the veterinarian, groomer, or simply a noisy, bumpy car ride. If your adult cat already hides when the carrier comes out, you might start retraining with a brand new carrier. Train your kitten to associate the carrier with safe, positive experiences from the day you bring him or her home. A crate that breaks down into three parts lets you start with just the bottom section, lined with a soft towel or blanket like a bed. Cats respond to smell. Rub the cat with the bedding first so the crate smells familiar. A calming product called Feliway can be sprayed lightly inside as well. Leave the crate out to be explored. Once the cat accepts the bottom of the crate, attach the top, and eventually the door.
Start by rewarding kitty for going near the crate, then for entering it. A toy such as a ping pong ball can be tossed inside. Treats placed in the crate are a tempting lure as well. The complete process may take a week or more. Leave the door open until the cat is comfortable and enters the crate on his or her own. Then, when the cat goes inside, shut the door while praising in a calm, pleased voice. After a minute or so, let the cat out and offer a special treat or toy. The lesson learned is that staying calm inside the crate earns good things. To reinforce the established positive feeling, train daily for about two weeks, adding a minute longer inside the crate each day. When 10 minutes confined is still O.K., carry the crate with cat inside around the room, then put it down, let the cat out and once more reward. Cats like to be talked to and talk back. Take the crated cat to the car for a chat without going for a ride. Eventually he or she will learn that good things like affection, treats and toys happen in association with the carrier.
Remember to keep the carrier handy, along with food, water, and litter supplies so that you easily and quickly can take your cat with you if you must evacuate in an emergency.
– Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director of the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA.
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