Welcome to “Debarking Pet Myths,” our monthly series that addresses common myths, misconceptions and old wives’ tales about dogs and cats.
Cats have been living with people — in our homes, granaries, barns or ships — for centuries. Yet many of us still don’t understand the feline mind or how to communicate with our cats. Because cats are independent and not as social as dogs, they’re often stereotyped as untrainable.
Are cats untrainable?
The myth that you cannot train a cat is false. Remember, we’re talking about the indoor pet that uses a litter box!
Cats are intelligent and can learn a variety of behaviors, including tricks. In fact, one of the first scientific studies to highlight the importance of reinforcement in animal behavior used cats.
The key to cat training, according to a WebMD and ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist article, is to recognize that cats are not naturally inclined to work for praise. They’re not as easy to motivate as dogs, either. To train your cat, you’ll need food treats that your cat finds irresistible, along with patience, creativity and persuasiveness. Little pieces of chicken, turkey, low-sodium tuna and commercial cat treats can positively reinforce desirable behaviors.
TRAINING CAN MAKE LIFE EASIER FOR YOU AND YOUR CAT
Cats learn every day, so why not take advantage of the opportunities? Through training, you can create and direct some of the associations cats make. Training stimulates the feline mind and provides exercise. It not only teaches desirable behaviors but helps prevent unwanted ones, like furniture scratching. You can add training to just about anything cats do — going into a carrier to jumping up on counters and more. You can even teach your cat tricks, like giving a “high five,” to surprise your family and friends.
Like people and dogs, cats learn through repetition. But you’ll need to keep training sessions short — just a few minutes at one time — to avoid feline boredom.
Of course, punishment doesn’t work with cats any better than it does with dogs. A punished cat learns to run away instead of learning what not to do. Punishment also stresses many cats. Stress is one of the most common causes of problem cat behaviors, including eliminating outside the litter box. Stress also has negative effects on the immune system, so your kitty may be more vulnerable to health issues such as feline idiopathic cystitis (inflammation of the bladder).
What tasks or tricks would you like to encourage your kitty to repeat? The next time someone tells you that cats are untrainable, you and your kitty can show them how wrong they are!