Every cat is different, but most share the ability to learn given the right circumstances. No matter what you’re trying to achieve with your cat, there are some basic tools that you’ll need for success. Don’t worry - these aren’t expensive tools. In fact, we expect that you have them in your tool kit already, whether you know it or not. If you’d like to succeed with training your kitty, these 10 handy tools will give you a great head start.
TOOL #1 - PATIENCE
No cat will make big changes overnight. It takes consistency for them to grow and change their behavior. Give each cat the time she needs to adapt and learn.
TOOL #2 - CALM DETACHMENT
If you’re upset or distracted, your cat will know it. He may not visibly react to it, but he’ll know it. You get the most mileage out of your interactions with cats if you maintain a calm demeanor. Accept what they give you in each training session as the gift that it is and praise every tiny step forward.
TOOL #3 - UNDERSTANDING
Try to look at things through your feline friend’s eyes. Yes, that does mean getting down on the floor to see the world from their point of view. It’s quite a bit different from yours, isn’t it? Now remember that your home is the entire world to your cat. You may be her only friend and playmate in the whole world. It’s no wonder she sometimes seeks your attention at times when it’s least convenient. The better you can empathize with your cat, the better you’ll be at tools 1 and 2.
TOOL #4 - TIME
In order to make progress with your cat, you need to spend time with him. Bonding begins with feedings and lap times but it’s also reinforced by casual encounters and acknowledgements. If you walk into a room and see your cat looking at you, that look is an invitation for interaction. Just a smile or a nice word in passing lets them know that they’re truly a member of the family. The more time you spend petting, talking to, or smiling at your cat, the easier the training sessions will be. And those sessions will also require time. It’s best to set aside a little time each day for training. Even if it’s just five minutes at a time. Consistency wins.
TOOL #5 - KINDNESS
Even when your cat does something that displeases you, isn’t she still just doing what cats do? Most cats do not respond well to punishment. Negative reinforcement will usually train a cat to avoid you. They simply will not associate your actions with their own behavior. They’ll see it as mistreatment and they’ll quickly learn to give you a wide berth. Positive reinforcement will render the best results. Most of the things that we silly humans label as “misbehavior” are simply a cats way of showing what they need. If they are too rambunctious at bedtime, they probably need better scheduling. If they attack everything that moves (including your feet), they probably need more play time. It’s important to remember that cats never act out of malice.
TOOL #6 - REWARDS
Cats are most often motivated by food (especially treats), but they can also be motivated by praise and affection. Utilize their favorite treats when the hard core training is taking place and you’ll go farther, faster. Never give out treats indiscriminately or they’ll lose some of their value in training. The rarity of the special treats will make your feline friend even more motivated to learn. Just don’t be stingy with them when training. Whenever your cat makes an effort to comply with your wishes, reward him!
TOOL #7 - JOURNAL
Keeping some sort of a record of your successes with your cat will help to keep you motivated and remind you of how far you’ve come together. This can be a mental list, a Google Doc, photos, videos, or just a scrap of paper. It’s great to look back on early entries on those days when you feel that your cat isn’t progressing. You’ll quickly see that she’s made great leaps, even though she may have plateaued for the moment. These notes can also be a reminder to switch up your training activities. Boredom is a big enemy to effective training sessions, for both humans and cats.
TOOL #8 - COMMUNICATION
Be consistent in the words and the tone of voice you use in your cat’s training. Cats hear your words as simple sounds without meaning at first. As you repeat them, they gradually learn to associate your human sounds with actions or objects. The more consistently you can reproduce a sound, the easier it will be for your cat to learn it. At the same time, listen carefully to the sounds your cat makes. In the wild, cats rarely vocalize to other adults, but our feline friends have learned that vocalizing get the attention of us humans. They will develop a private vocabulary just for you and if you’re attentive, you’ll soon be able to learn what many of their cat words mean.
TOOL #9 - ATTENTION
Cats ask for things with their eyes more often than they do with vocalizations. Take note of what your cat is looking at, especially when he’s looking directly at you for more than a second or two. A slow eye blink will reassure him as will a quick scratch under the chin. Let him know that you’re understanding his attempts at communication, most of which are silent.
TOOL #10 - LOVE
It may go without saying, but it’s important to remember why you’re doing this. Hopefully, it’s because you love your little feline friend and want to get the most out of your time together. Cats can be fast friends and steadfast companions when cared for and given the love they need. Some people think of cats as aloof creatures who don’t need us at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cats certainly do need social interactions, and training can help them to feel accomplishment. Training is especially important for indoor-only cats who often need more challenge in their lives. Challenge them with love and you’ll see them grow and become even closer to you.
If you dust off these tools from your kit and put them to work, we guarantee that you’ll have a much easier time getting your feline friend to cooperate with your wishes. As always, please let us know if we can help!