A movie came out recently featuring a runaway kitten. In an article about the movie, the animal trainers involved talked about the six or so cats they used to portray the feline character. Each cat was trained to do one specific thing for the movie – run, eat, talk, look cute, and so on. This got me thinking about training my cat. He is pretty smart, after all. I decided to start with getting him to jump in my lap on command. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
It’s important to know how to motivate cats in general, and your cat specifically. Cats respond to rewards, not punishment. This might mean treats, a nice long scratch behind the ears, or a pinch of catnip. The important thing is to give your cat a reason to want to train.
Start with small steps. Every time Louie jumps up next to me, I reward him with a good scratch under his chin. This teaches him that this behavior is something he should keep doing to get rewarded. Next, we started working on the “on command” part. When he seems calm and amenable to practicing, I pat the couch, his cue to jump up. If he does it right, he gets a reward. If he doesn’t, I ignore it. Eventually we’ll move on to getting him in my lap when I call him, but not until he knows all the steps.
Practice regularly, but not for too long. Ideally training should take about 10-15 minutes a day, every day. Any longer than that and cats are liable to get bored and stop paying attention, or even start to misbehave. It’s best to let the cat dictate the length, frequency, and intensity of training sessions.
Keep it fun! I make sure to include lots of petting, snuggling, and toys during our training sessions. I want him to enjoy the process, so that eventually he’ll learn more things, like walking on a leash or playing fetch. If learning is unpleasant, this won’t happen.
Start training as early as you can. Kittens learn more quickly and easily than adult cats, so a little effort when kitty is a few months old will pay off for the rest of her life. But even if your cat is grown up, it’s still worth it to try. No cat is too old to learn new thing.
The most important thing to remember about training is that cats, unlike dogs, are not pack animals by nature. While dogs are quick to pick a human leader and work to please them, cats don’t act that way. To train your cat, use patience, creativity, and tangible rewards. If you do it right, your training might just pay off. I’m not saying your cat could be the Next Big Thing in Hollywood, but she could be the star of your next dinner party, which, really, is just as great.