Cat Behavior Training and Positive Reinforcement – It Works!

Cat Behavior Training and Positive Reinforcement – It Works!

It may come as a surprise to most feline lovers, but cats are, in fact, trainable. Sure, your furry pal may not cozy up to tricks or appreciate the challenge of an agility course, but cats can and probably should be trained to some degree. Much like their canine counterparts, they respond well to reward based training.

Since many cats wind up in shelters due to behaviors like scratching, spraying, or roughhousing (biting, etc.), cat behavior training is not only important for their safety, it can also make for a healthier, happier pet.

Cat Behavior Training: Why it’s Needed

Gone are the days when we viewed cats through that “Garfield” lens of total independence to the point of outright refusal to comply with household rules. To a certain extent, most cat owners have already employed training techniques by teaching their cats how to use the litter box. Your cat may also recognize and respond to verbal cues, such as his or her name, the sound of food being opened, or the rattle of a familiar catnip toy.

Things like scratching the couch, rooting through your houseplants, or biting your finger may seem like outright “bad” behaviors, but they actually serve a purpose. In fact, the act of scratching, stalking, or play-biting are instinctual behaviors your cat needs to practice in order to be a cat. This is where behavior training comes into play. Rather than cut out the instinct (which is impossible), our goal is to redirect to a more positive expression of the behavior.

Simple Techniques and Tips

If you’ve ever trained a dog, you’re well on your way to training a cat. In fact, many reward based techniques (from using small treats and verbal praise to the clicker method) are effective ways to reinforce the behavior you want from your pet.

First, make sure your cat has everything he or she needs to be successful and housetrained:

  • Two or more litter boxes per cat
  • A few places to scratch, such as posts or cardboard scratch pads
  • Places to climb, such as a cat tree
  • A place to hide, like sleeping cubes or space in a closet or beneath a bed
  • Toys to keep him or her active
  • A window perch or other feature for mental stimulation

Now that you have the items your cat will appreciate, some general positive reinforcement tips include:

  • Avoid scolding or punishing your cat for bad behavior as this will just make your cat fearful. If your cat is biting or scratching, get up and leave until he or she is more relaxed.
  • When your cat does what you want (such as use the scratching post instead of the bed), verbally praise and reward your pet with treats, toys, catnip, or a bit of tuna.
  • Associate your cat’s items with enjoyment by adding some treats to the crate (if crate training) or scratching post or by relocating the cat tree to a favorite bird watching window.
  • Keep your cat’s routine as consistent as possible. Pay attention to what’s happening in the environment when your cat makes a mistake, and make adjustments to avoid the scenario in the future (e.g., don’t be shocked if your cat pees on the carpet when you forget to scoop the box for a few days). In many cases, what led up to the problem can easily be corrected.
  • Consider leash training your cat so he or she can enjoy some quality time outdoors.

Last but not least, remember the reward! It’s all about the reward.

While your cat may never learn to fetch your sneakers, there’s no reason he or she can’t learn some basic, beneficial training. For suggestions or assistance, please call our team.

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