It is a myth that cats cannot be trained. In Moscow there is a ‘cat circus’ where 120 cats, mostly
rescued stray cats, have a new safe, warm and well-fed life entertaining hundreds of people
each day. The owner and trainer of these circus cats emphasises that cats can only be trained
Most owners would not want their cat to leap through hoops and perform other circus tricks but
mostly pet owners want to train their cat not to perform certain actions. The same principles of
Cats learn by experience. If the experience is good, they will try to repeat it, if the experience is unpleasant, they will try to avoid it in the future.
The key to successful training is to make sure that whatever you want your cat to do is
rewarding and pleasurable for the cat. Reward may be food, attention, a pat or simply the cat
getting what it wants. Whatever you don’t want your cat to do must never be rewarding and may even need to be unpleasant without doing the cat any harm.
Sometimes we unintentionally reward our cats for unwanted behaviour. Cats which vocalise
excessively often get fed or patted to quieten them — this teaches the cat that if it meows it gets attention. Cats which are used to being fed early on weekday mornings often wake the owner early in the morning at weekends. In an attempt to be allowed to have a lazy Sunday morning in bed the owner will often get up and feed the cat before going back to bed. This teaches the cat that his behaviour gets him exactly what he wants — food and attention. Next Sunday he will be even more persistent!
Reprimands do not work when training your cat. However using a water pistol to spray a
misbehaving cat from a distance at the very moment it is performing the unwanted behaviour
will make the behaviour less likely to be repeated. Shouting, verbally disciplining or hitting a cat will only make it resent you and more likely to perform other unwanted behaviour through
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. In either case, the misbehaviour
continues. 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 reform bad habits set up the environment so that those behaviours you don’t want are not rewarding.
Many indoor cats scratch at furniture, especially the back of upholstered chairs. Most cats don’t like to walk over foil so surrounding the chair with aluminium foil (as a temporary measure not a decorating feature!) may deter the cat from approaching the chair. However, scratching is a normal cat behaviour which cannot be stopped so it is necessary to provide a scratching pole for the indoor cat to use. Once your cat realizes that chairs are not fun to scratch but the scratching post is fun, the problem of inappropriate scratching will stop.
The independent nature of the cat means that, unlike dogs, they will only perform actions which please them. Think like your cat — is it worthwhile performing that action? What will the reward be? Is there something else I could do, somewhere else I could go which would be more
Teaching your cat to perform desirable actions is easier and more fun for both cat and owner
than trying to stop bad habits.
Article Courtesy of Petcare Information and Advisory Service Australia