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Can you train your cat? Yes! Two things you should teach them.

Let’s face it, humans, speaking in general terms, aren’t all that great at learning about other species. Humans started dog training to teach dogs things to do for us, like fight beside us in wartime.

Even though dogs were with us in our homes and doing important things with and for us, we still didn’t think it was very interesting to study the world according to dogs. Only recently have we been exploring their perceptions, experiences, and worldview. It’s fascinating! Check out the Dog Cognition Lab or Canine Science Symposium.

And cats? Well, although cats are taking up more and more attention in our homes and our hearts, we’re even more far behind in our knowledge of them. Fortunately, there are some amazing cat behaviorists (Pam Johnson-Bennett, Tabitha Kucera, Mikel Delgado, Katenna Jones, Mikkel Becker) and scientists who are devoting more attention to cats and exactly how they see the world, what they need, and what pleases them. This is important information if you share your home with cats! A topic for a future blog post…

A cat curled in a circle castle-decorated scratcher looking back at you.

For many, the idea of training cats may be improbable, laughable, or just cute.

The truth is the evidence-based techniques used to train dogs can be used to train any animal including cats, chickens, pigs, goats, and, if you are Ken Ramierz, butterflies and elephants. Well, anyone might use the techniques, but animal trainer Ramierz actually has trained butterflies and elephants. Classical and operant conditioning work for all beings. Humans, too!

So, yes, cats! Even if you are not enamored with the idea of training your cat to high five or don’t have the time to invest in teaching your cat to jump through a hoop, there are two things you should teach your cat.

One of these is important for your cat (and helpful for you).

The other is important for you (and helpful for your cat).

#1 Train your cat: Teach your cat to love being in their crate (so you can take them easily to the vet).

Look around you right now. Where is your cat’s crate? The one you use to take them to the vet. Is it upstairs in the attic or down in the basement covered in dust? Go get it now. Clean it out (don’t use any stinky chemicals). Put a soft blanket inside and maybe cover it with a blanket or towel to make a nice hiding place. Leave the door off or open (so it doesn’t accidentally swing shut in a scary way). Put that crate out in a cat-comfortable part of your home: a place the cat likes. Preferably not on the floor, but up high on a chair or a desk (if your cat is still spry and doesn’t have mobility issues). Cats love and need vertical spaces. Then, toss a couple of treats in the back of the crate when your cat is not looking. Do this occasionally. If you see your cat in the crate break out some treats or give them a dab of wet food and reward this behavior. This is step one of crate training.

#2 Train your cat: Teach your cat where you would like them to be.

Counters, stove tops, laptops, kitchen tables…there are so many places where we humans don’t want cats to hang out. At best, having the cat in these places can be in the way and irritating. At worst, they can be downright dangerous. The good news is cats are trainable! They are in these places because most likely they are getting something they want from you –attention!–when they go here. You can train your cat to prefer the places you want them to be –a nearby chair, a window perch, a cat tree, on the floor etc. by reinforcing that behavior.  Reward the cat when they are in these desirable places. At first, lure the cat to these places with a treat. You can also capture this behavior by bringing a treat to the cat when you spot them there. Follow this up with a play session. The more you do this, the more the cat will prefer this behavior and these places. Good things happen in those places. Good things come to them when they hang out there. If a cat is underfoot in the kitchen, step out for a moment and place a treat on a nearby preferred place. Do it again. Follow up with a play session. You are on your way to building a better habit for your cat.

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