Cats were not domesticated to work alongside people; instead, they were generally trained to eliminate vermin. Thus, cats are used to working on their own. Some people have interpreted that to mean that cats cannot be trained. Luckily, this is not the case. Your feline friend can be a little tougher to train than their canine counterparts, but here’s a few ways to get started.
1. Do not use punishment as a deterrent
Dogs have been bred for thousands of years to please humans, so punishment tends to work well on them. Cats, on the other hand, respond very negatively towards punishment; shouting “No!” or threatening a cat is liable to make them run away from you, hide, or fight back. Cats typically respond to punishment by lashing out: eliminating outside the litterbox, scratching up furniture, or hiding for extended periods are typical behaviors when cats are stressed or upset with punishment. Rewards and positive feedback are the best ways to get your cat to respond the way you want.
2. Use a clicker
Dogs can be clicker trained as well, but their desire to learn commands make them unnecessary. With cats, a clicker is a way to focus their attention and let them know desired behavior. A clicker is a small, usually plastic device with a button that makes a loud clicking sound when pressed. Some people can even cut out the middle-man and use a pen with a clicking sound. These devices help get your cat’s attention so that, when they engage in the desired behavior, they instantly recognize it and get rewarded. This will encourage them to repeat that behavior in the future. Click the device as soon as your cat does what you are teaching, and they will come running, expecting the reward. And that leads us to…
3. Find a rewarding treat
Dogs go nuts for pretty much anything outside of their regular meal food. Cats are a bit more picky and, to train them well, you need to find a treat they really enjoy. Some cats go nuts for canned tuna, some for cubed chicken, some for deli meat or cheese. Find your cat’s absolute favorite while you are teaching a new behavior, and keep a supply on hand in your refrigerator. The best way to begin training a cat is by teaching them to sit. Hold the treat in front of their nose and slowly raise it once you have their attention. As their face lifts up, their back end should move in the opposite direction. Once it hits the floor, click your clicker and give them the treat. Repeat this over a few days, and the cat will begin to associate the clicking sound with their favorite reward. Once they know this, the sky's the limit to what they can learn.
Don’t assume dogs are the only pets that can be reliably trained. Cats may take a little more effort, but it can help you to make a connection with your kitty that can really make your relationship special.