I had my very first cat-training breakthrough yesterday. It was pretty earth-shattering. Are you ready?
Are not these:
That’s correct. Cats are not dogs. Are you as shocked as I am?
All joking aside, it really is a concept I need to drill into my head if I am going to make any progress teaching my cat new behaviours. I guess I assumed since cats respond to clicker training as well as dogs do, that my other methods could be exactly the same. Not so. For instance, ignoring behaviour you don’t want in a dog, usually helps reduce that behaviour. However, if you ignore a cat for doing something you don’t like – say, jumping on the counter – the cat is going to just keep doing it. Their motivations are almost entirely different. A cat only ever behaves to please himself and what pleases himself often has very little to do with you.
Or should I say always has very little to do with you?
Furthermore, if you think dogs require a lot of patience, cats beat that trifold. Dogs you can rev up or verbally encourage. Cats, at least my cat, respond better to calm silence. If I start jumping around and making crazy noises, my dog thinks it’s party time. If I do the same with my cat he looks at me with disdain, turns up his tail, and walks away. In order to encourage him it is much better to sit very still on the floor, calm my breathing, and look away. Kind of like working with a fearful dog.
Another way they are different is that my dog is ready to train all day, every day. I could wake her up at two am, treats in hand, and she’ll offer a thousand different behaviours. My cat, on the other hand, is only willing to work with me at very specific times and for very specific intervals. If I went downstairs right now where he is sleeping on the bed, he’d make it very clear interacting with me is not on his agenda. All of the open tuna cans in the world wouldn’t convince him it was time to train. Any work with cats needs to be done on their terms. I find mine is most likely to learn between eight and ten at night, which is when he usually comes looking for treats. I am more than happy to take advantage of his munchies!
Lastly, and this one is just annoying, cats are not dogs in that no one seems interested in writing books on how to train them. Walking to the pet section of my local book store I see shelves upon shelves of books on dog behaviour and training. Do you know how many cat related books I see? Five. As in, five books in total. This includes the one about Dewey the Library Cat and one that is just a collection of cute photos. So really there are three that actually have something to do with cat training and care. Fortunately, one of those three turns out to be a winner. Every night for the last week or so, I’ve curled up with my lovely copy of Bruce Fogle’s Complete Cat Care: What Every Cat Owner Needs to Know. A veterinarian, Fogle seems to understand the cat brain – as much as any human can – and explains their needs and motivations very well. The book even includes a terrific section on cat tricks. Perhaps less selection in books means there isn’t a lot of fodder to sort through. No doubt the dog section could do with some weeding out.
But I digress. The last time I talked about cat training, I attempted to show off my cat’s ability to sit on command. But I realise now I was getting way ahead of myself. I am back to foundation stuff. Right now it’s all about making him comfortable taking treats directly from my hand. Once he is cool doing that, I will be able to lure him into a proper sit. I have also been working on a simple hand target. It’s slow going but after investing just a few minutes every night, I already feel like our relationship has changed for the better.
Cat agility here we come?
ETA: Oops! I should have added that this is NOT my video, though the cat in it does look quite similar to The Cat. But this video is actually the result of someone else’s very hard work and not my own. I just found it while browsing on Youtube and thought I would share it here. We’ve got a long, long, LONG way to go before we are ever this much of a team.