There are (mostly) two types of people in this world: dog people and cat people. And while dog people will expound on the merits of being able to train their trusty pets, they may be forgetting one small thing: you can train a cat, too.
Sure, felines may not as readily beg, sit, speak, or play dead on command, but in theory they can be trained to do almost anything that your pooch can do. So if’ you’re looking to get your cat in tip top training shape, here’s how to train them like a dog.
Gather up your patience
Cats have a bad rap for being stubborn, independent, and untrainable. But only two of those things are true: according to animal trainer Samantha Martin, who founded The Amazing Acro-Cats, the reason people believe cats are untrainable is because they just don’t think to train them in the first place.
“Any cat can be trained to do something,” she told Huffington Post. “Patience is key. Generally it will take about three training sessions [for them] to really key into what’s going on.”
Start them young
Like dogs, it’s easier to train cats in their earlier years. Martin revealed to Huffington Post that the only cats she travels with on tour are the ones she’s been working with since they were kittens. That doesn’t mean you can’t teach an old cat new tricks, mind you, it just means you may have to work a little harder at it.
Start with things they want to do anyhow
Ready to sit down with your favourite feline and get to work? Start with tricks related to their natural interests and inclinations. “Base things on what the cat wants to do,” Martin added. “That’s basically what I end up doing. I watch my cats.” That includes refining a “high-five” or a “hand shake” if your cat naturally wants to touch things with its paws, or “fetching” a toy if it seems to have a favourite stuffed mouse that it’s always playing with.
Use edible reinforcements
While dogs respond well to verbal positive reinforcement, cats are more likely to shrug off your words while licking their paws in the corner instead. To them, you become a lot more interesting when you have lots and lots of delicious treats on your person. That means going above and beyond your standard kibble, and breaking out stinky, gooey treats when you start a training session instead, says Petfinder foster mom Jane Harrell.
Break out the clicker
Of course you can’t just rely on treats when it comes to training—otherwise your kitty might be a little too bloated to actually perform that trick you’re working on a few weeks down the line. Once your pet has the hang of what’s going on, start subbing in a clicker right before giving an actual treat, eventually phasing out treats altogether.
Cats know what’s up, and what’s up is that they don’t respond well to “discipline.” In fact, if you start doling out punishments when your feline doesn’t perform the way you want it to, you could increase its overall stress levels. In turn, that could lead to behavioural and health problems down the road. According to Reader’s Digest, it’s better to stick with clickers and treats for behaviours you do endorse, and to take breaks when things don’t go as planned.
Keep your training sessions short
When you’re working with puppies, you’ll probably note that they seem to have an endless supply of energy. But while kittens have bundles of energy too, their attention span is a little less… shall we say focused. Martin recommends keeping your training sessions short, to no more than twice per day, at 10 minutes per session.
Slow and steady wins the race
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and so you probably shouldn’t expect your cat to be poised and purring right away either. Take slow, baby steps. If you want your cat to use the toilet instead of the litterbox, slowly transition the box into the bathroom, then on top of the toilet, then use an insert inside the bowl, and then remove the bowl. If you want your cat to walk on a leash, let it get used to the leash, and then harness it, and then clip it on for a short period outside in the backyard. For cats, it’s all about baby steps.
Besides, before you know it all that hard work will pay off, and your cat will be acting like a doggone dog, doggonit. All dog-day long.