By Paula Garber and Francine Miller
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.