Do you ever have trouble getting your cat or kitten to stay put, get into a carrier for traveling or stay away from certain areas? Have you ever been told that cats can not be trained?
Below, we are going to show you that there are efficient methods for successfully training cats and kittens just as there are for dogs. In addition to behaving well, a trained cat is more attuned to its owner, and the bond between cat and owner is usually enhanced.
The first thing to know is that cats and dogs have some fundamental differences when it comes to training. Basically, cats do not learn from any of the kinds of punishment or rebuke that one might see used with dogs. That is, cats often do not respond to commands unless they want to. The idea is to train or condition your cat to perform certain desired behaviors rather than to punish its unwanted behavior. For example, you cannot train a cat to stop meowing by punishing it. Instead, you would reward the silence that follows. Specifically, you would wait until the noise has stopped for at least three seconds, and then supply the cat some valued reward such as praise and/or a treat.
The ultimate goal of course is to wean your cat off of treats for rewarding and reinforcing good behavior, or it would become very fat and you would be spending a lot of money on treats! Fortunately, this process is natural and will not be difficult. Your cat will quickly learn to associate your behavior and certain sounds with good things. For example, the sound of you flipping open the top of a cat food can or shaking a container of treats will tell it that good food is coming up for it, and your cat will come running to you. For cat training, this means you can reinforce any specific behavior with a food reward, and after a while just using the sound produced prior to the actual food as the sole reward.
Of course, you would not want to have to create the sound of opening a can of food all the time! This is why most successful cat trainers use something like a small plastic or metal clicker – followed with the giving of an actual treat during initial training – to mark and reward the successful accomplishment of a behavior. This is called clicker training. It does not take long for cats to realize that the clicking signals something good, just like the noise made by a can opener.
The very first thing to accomplish is to give a click and a reward for nothing, to just associate a click with a treat. Do this a few times. Soon you should have your cat’s undivided attention. After some repetitions, you will notice that your cat reacts to hearing the click with some anticipatory behavior, as it has learned to associate the sound with the reward.
After the initial association above is learned, you can begin formal training. Begin to click and treat only when, and after, the cat has engaged in some complete behavior that you want, such as sitting. Or, you can try clicking and rewarding a behavior that you are trying to encourage. For example, click and reward your cat for taking a pace or two toward you when you are trying to teach "come." It is also a good idea to use your cat’s name along with the command you are trying to teach, such as "Garfield – come here," and if it obeys then verbally praise it with something like "good boy" in addition to the click and treat.
Below are the detailed methods for teaching a few of the most common commands:
Start by placing your cat on a table. Hold the food reward over its head. Say its name and give the command "Sit." Move the food back over your cat’s head. As its head follows the food your cat will naturally sit down in most cases. As soon as it sits, make the clicking sound and say "Sit" again to reinforce the command name, then give it the food reward soon after. Should your cat not sit as you move the food over its head, lightly press down on its hindquarters or lower back with one hand while holding the food over its head with your other hand, and say "Sit."
Stand by your cat’s feeding station and click. Once your cat comes to the feeding station, and to you, at the sound of the clicker, say "Come" and then hit the clicker again. Give it some food and praise it. Continue this process but from other locations around your house. Eventually your cat should come to you reliably when you say “Come” without you having to click at it, though there should always be something worth coming for to reward it at least initially.
Another way to teach the come command is by sitting on the floor or crouching down and calling for your cat. Look enthusiastic and pat or scratch the floor in front of you, saying something like "Garfield, come here, good boy!" If Garfield comes, click and reward, and move to another location. Repeat this exercise many times. You can even incorporate a few other people, making the training process more fun while teaching the cat to obey several different people. Each one calls the cat in turn and whenever it responds successfully, have the person click and treat the cat.
Teaching your cat to stay is a bit more complex. Place the food down on the floor about ten feet away from it. As it approaches, put your hand out to stop it and say "Stay." If it stops, make the clicking sound and reward it. If it keeps on coming, hold your hand out again and repeat the command "Stay." Reward only when it finally stops, and repeat the process until your cat knows that "Stay" means it should freeze in its tracks.
A great alternative method is to treat stay as an extended sit. Once your cat has learned to sit or lie down in order to make you click, you can start shaping the behavior toward longer durations of these behaviors. To do this, do not click right away but rather delay the click and reward by a few seconds. From there, the length of delay can be increased to as long as you think is appropriate. The cat will learn that if it sits or lies down for long enough a click and treat will eventually come.
Here are some more general tips for successful and efficient clicker training:
- Choose a quiet location where you can be alone and undisturbed with your cat. Turn off the television, stereo, etc.
- Have a supply of delicious food treats in your hand or in a bowl, but out of your cat’s reach. The treats should be diced up into pea-sized chunks.
- Hold the clicker in your hand or have it attached to your belt so it is quickly at hand.
- Teach only one command at a time and repeat the lesson daily until your cat responds reliably. Once it has learned the first command, move on to the next one.
- If your cat appears frustrated or impatient, quit and perform the lesson at another time. Keep each session about ten or fifteen minutes long at maximum. Teaching one command may take anything from one or two days to about a week, so be patient.
In conclusion, when the cat learns that if it performs a behavior you approve of then it can make you click (and that means food), it will try all kinds of ways to make you happy. All you have to do is decide what you want to reward and promote, and what you prefer to ignore. And rewards do not have to be used forever, remember the concept of delaying the reward by a few seconds to longer. Once a behavior is occurring with the appropriate hand movements, clicking, and praise, simply stop using the actual reward (food).
Try to start training your cat or kitten at as young an age as possible. Make the training sessions fun for your cat and for you and make them something your cat wants to participate in. Soon your cat will begin to associate the food reward with the command and you will no longer even have to use the clicker to make it sit – simply saying the command will be enough.