Why train a cat? Why indeed. Myths about the trainability of cats abound: “Cats can’t be trained because they’re too independent.” “Cats are difficult to train because they are not food motivated.” “Cats don’t need training like dogs do.” These are all common misconceptions, but get ready to kick all the myths to the curb and add some useful cat training tools and techniques to your repertoire.
Professional dog trainers will already know all about clicker training and many use the method regularly in their training sessions with dogs. What is less common is the concept of clicker training – or indeed any form of training – for cats. In fact, clicker training is a fun and unique way for cats and humans to communicate with each other, and better communication can strengthen the cat-human bond and build trust. It can also provide enrichment for cats in the form of mental and physical stimulation. Cats can be clicker trained to accept husbandry procedures like taking medication, being groomed and having their claws trimmed, and going into a cat carrier. You can also use clicker training to teach a cat to walk on a harness and leash and to do a variety of cute tricks, too. In addition, many feline behavior problems can be resolved using clicker training, and training can help a cat feel safe and secure in stressful situations as well.
How Cats Learn
By understanding how cats learn and how we can influence what they learn, we can create events to be perceived more positively than they may otherwise be perceived (such as going into a cat carrier). Just like with dogs, learning is happening all the time, regardless of whether you are intentionally trying to teach something. Learning can take place with one repetition or many. Experiences can either help reinforce what has previously been learned or teach something entirely different. Most importantly, as an animal is learning he is also developing negative or positive associations as to how things make him feel.
Here is another interesting blog by Pam Hogel. Pam thank you for writing such excellent blogs.
The New York times recently published an article describing a study that compared dogs’ and wolves’ ability to perform cooperative tasks.
The article, and the short accompanying video, are somewhat disdainful in their assessment of the dogs, who did not perform as well as the wolves on the task. The rope-pulling task used for the study is one at which other species, including elephants, chimps, and multiple bird species, have succeeded. Two test subjects must pull on ropes at the same time in order to bring a tray with food rewards into reach. If only one dog pulls at the rope, he will pull it out of the test area without pulling the food tray to him, thus failing the test. (Alternatively, as an elephant discovered, one team member could stand on her rope and let her partner do all of the pulling. Neither the dogs nor the wolves appear to have discovered this method of freeloading.)
Most of us know that a dog’s tail can be a fairly good indicator of mood. We can observe whether the tail carriage is low, medium, or high and whether it is loose or stiff. Whether and in what manner it is wagging. We can often draw some pretty good conclusions from those observations, keeping breed in mind.
A dog wagging her tail loosely at a low angle is possibly friendly. A dog holding her tail upright, wagging it stiffly from side to side is one to watch out for. A dog with her tail hanging straight down or tucked between her legs is usually afraid or unhappy.
Except when she’s not.
I have a popular YouTube movie called Kongs for Beginners, in which I show how to make very easy Kongs for puppies and inexperienced dogs. All four of my dogs from that time demonstrate. A viewer commented that Zani looked unhappy because her tail was tucked. I hadn’t noticed. I agreed and put a note in the video description about it.
This success got me thinking. I was able to take her into a completely new environment (the vet specialty practice) without graduated exposures. We just started going there for appointments. And although she was nervous at times, I felt like the experience was a positive one. She was more comfortable each time we went, which is pretty amazing without any deliberate desensitization.
What I thought: Maybe she’s ready to go to my office!
Clara, the newest office dog–a bit concerned but glad to be there