No, this is not about cat training boot camp!
If training your cat to sit, stay and heel is your goal, perhaps you should get a dog. If training your cat to adroitly perch himself over your toilet to do his business is your goal, perhaps this article is not for you either. This article is for all of us who would be happy training our cat to just use the litter box instead of our comforter, closet or shoes. This is for owners who would be happy training their cat to use a scratching post instead of the stereo speakers. If you're like me, you admire your cat for being a cat and you want him to behave as nothing other than a cat, but a well-behaved one.
Why do cats do the things they do. Fortunately, we'll never know or even come close to knowing everything. The feline mystique is what often attracts us to our cats and makes them so fun and interesting to live with. But it sure would be nice if we could understand them enough to train our cat to stop urinating in our closet!
Before we start training our cats to do something or to stop doing something, we need to look at how cats learn. They don't understand English, they can't read books or attend lectures. They learn by experience. If the experience is good, they will try to repeat it. If the experience is unpleasant, your cat will try to avoid it in the future. Cats enjoy raking the furniture with their claws, so they continue to do it. But it's quite a shock when they stick their nose in a candle flame, so they won't do that again.
The key to training a cat and understanding cat behavior is to make sure that whatever you want your cat to do is exceedingly rewarding and pleasurable. Whatever you don't want your cat to indulge in must never be rewarding or fun, in fact, it must be unpleasant.
Sometimes we unintentionally reward our cat for obnoxious behavior. A common complaint is that the cat pounces on the owner at five in the morning, meowing up a storm and generally being a pest. What do the owners do? They get up and feed the cat, play with him or let him outside. You have trained your cat to wake you up! Your cat has learned that his behavior gets him exactly what he wants.
Many owners become frustrated because they can't catch the cat in the act of the crime, so instead they show the cat the evidence (usually a wet spot on the carpet or pieces of shredded drapery) and discipline the cat at that time. A common training (mal)practice is grabbing the cat, pointing out the wet spot, then dragging him to the litter box and forcing him to dig in the litter. If you do this, you are training your cat that being reached for by the owner is a bad experience and that the litter box is a torture chamber. It is usually difficult if not impossible to catch the cat in the act because most cats have already learned that being caught is bad news.
Reprimands simply do not work when training your cat. If you catch kitty in the act, he will only misbehave when you are not around. If you punish the cat later, he will not associate the reprimand with the crime (you will also be training your cat to mistrust you). In either case, the misbehavior will continue. Some cats misbehave just to get attention and the attention is enough of a reward to cause kitty to continue his ways. So what do we do?
If you want to prevent cat problems from occurring, or train kitty to stop his bad habits, the answers are the same. Begin with a clean slate and give your cat a fresh start.
Stop all reprimands and punishment. Concentrate on making your relationship fun, rewarding, playful and interesting. Sometimes this change alone will solve your cat training problems. Cats are known to become overly active and destructive when bored. Daily play sessions and relaxing massages help your cat calm down. Cats that feel neglected will often stop using their litter box. If you schedule regular sessions to give your cat undivided attention and to play games with him, even litter box problems can disappear almost overnight.
Set up your cat to succeed in performing those behaviors you want her to learn so she can be rewarded. The most effective method of cat training is through rewards. This will give you the opportunity to reward and praise him for good behavior.
Set up the cat's environment so that his misbehavior is not a rewarding experience. Let's take a look at furniture scratching as an example. While making your cat's scratching post fun, rewarding and exciting, the training process also requires you to make the furniture unattractive as a clawing item. Instead of you telling the cat to avoid the furniture, let the furniture itself tell the cat to stay away. It's up to you to find something your cat does not like. See the cat scratching training article for full details.
Maybe you are into training your cat to jump through a hoop; maybe you just want him to stop climbing the drapes. Whatever the case, remember that cats learn best through the use of rewards, praise and positive reinforcement. Set kitty up to succeed. Set yourself up to succeed with your cat. It works, and it simplifies training your cat. It's a lot more fun when training succeeds for both of you.
I hope our cat training articles will help you better understand your cat's behavior - the whys, dos, don'ts and hows - so that you and your cat can have a fun, rewarding and lasting relationship.